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The talk out of Lubbock, Texas, is that 2008 is the season when Texas Tech legitimately can challenge Oklahoma and Texas for supremacy in the Big 12 South. The return of the nation's best receiver, most productive quarterback and the entire offensive line certainly adds credence to the conversation. Yet Tech has always scored in bunches under Mike Leach. The problem is defense, and shoring up the defensive line and improving the secondary are key points. Do that this spring, and the Red Raiders may be ready to walk the walk as well as talk the talk this fall.
Quarterback Graham Harrell appears poised for another huge season.
Defense?8: LB Brian Duncan, T Rajon Henley, FS Darcel McBath, E Jake Ratliff, CB Jamar Wall, NT Colby Whitlock, E Brandon Williams, LB Marlon Williams.
Offense?10: WR Edward Britton, C Shawn Byrnes, G Brandon Carter, WR Michael Crabtree, QB Graham Harrell, WR Eric Morris, T Rylan Reed, G Louis Vasquez, T Marlon Winn, RB Shannon Woods.
Special teams?1: P Jonathan Lacour.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Three wide receivers who had at least 48 receptions in 2007 return, including Crabtree, who caught 134 passes for 1,962 yards as a freshman. Harrell led the nation in passing, and you can't get much stronger at quarterback than that. All five offensive line starters return, including Vasquez, an All-American candidate. Depth isn't bad, either.
HELP IS NEEDED
Although the Red Raiders have all their starters returning on the defensive line, that unit frequently had difficulty stopping the run. Perhaps a year's experience and an infusion of newcomers will make for an upgrade. Tech doesn't run often, but needs better production from its tailbacks when it opts to stay on the ground. Last season's leading rusher posted just 439 yards.
KEEP AN EYE ON
LB Sam Fehoko: From Hawaii, the high-intensity Fehoko ? a redshirt freshman ? will challenge for the starting job at middle linebacker.
WR Detron Lewis: After contributing 10 catches and three touchdowns as a freshman, he'll have a chance to take over at a receiver spot vacated by Danny Amendola.
WR Tramain Swindall: A redshirt freshman, Swindall is a big target (6 feet 3/180 pounds) who will challenge for a starting job.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Senior strong safety Anthony Hines has been solid as a backup, but also tends to get injured. He needs to raise his performance to a starting caliber and stay on the field, or several emerging players could keep him on the sideline. He heads into spring atop the depth chart.
This won't be the first time the Red Raiders have gone into spring drills needing to bolster their defense. But with a lot of returning starters and some key transfers coming in, the Red Raiders might actually get it done this time. If Tech makes significant strides in the defensive line and secondary, 2008 could be the season the Red Raiders truly contend in the Big 12 South.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.