March 26, 2008
Spring Preview: The Quarterbacks
OUTGOING PLAYERS: None
THE STARTER: Graham Harrell
THE COMPETITORS: Taylor Potts, Steven Sheffield, Stefan Loucks, Seth Doege
THE OUTLOOK: Those of you who have read every installment in this series will have noticed a trend: "Outgoing Players: None." Not only do most units on the Texas Tech football team return their starters, they also return most of their key backups. And quarterback, which is even more crucial for Mike Leach's team than it is for virtually any other, is no exception.
Senior Graham Harrell is the returning starter. He combines with stellar wideout Mike Crabtree to comprise far and away the most plausible Heisman Trophy candidate duo on any team in the land. Indeed, comparison of Harrell and Crabtree to Southern Cal's Matt Leinert and Reggie Bush is eminently reasonable, even obvious. Crabtree is that good, and so is Harrell.
Harrell is coming off a sensational junior campaign in which he tossed for 5,298 yards on 468 of 644 passes, with only 14 interceptions and a whopping 45 touchdown passes. And those numbers do not include Tech's Gator Bowl victory.
Obviously, Harrell was nearly perfect in most of the Red Raiders' games last season. But there were a couple of costly exceptions. Harrell threw four interceptions in Tech's 41-10 loss to Missouri, and tossed four more picks in a home defeat at the hooves of the lowly Colorado Buffaloes. If Harrell is to make his Heisman candidacy stick, and perforce, lead the Red Raiders to a Big 12 title, he cannot have two bad games. One tank-job may not be fatal, but two will capsize the ship.
Barring injury (unlikely) and blowout victories (a lead-pipe cinch), Tech's backup quarterbacks will not see too much action. The current number-two guy is strapping Abilene slinger Taylor Potts. He's built like an NFL quarterback and has the sort of live arm that the pro scouts love. Potts also has a long stride that makes him deceptively fast and mobile.
Some observers give Potts low marks for intangibles, knowledge of the offense and decision making, but I'm convinced he is an underrated player, and when finally given the opportunity to shine, will do so in spectacular fashion. That chance will not come until 2009, however.
Tech's other quarterback depth consists of lanky walk-on Steven Sheffield, smallish redshirt freshman Stefan Loucks, and probably future star, Seth Doege. They will test Tech's defense in practice, but will not see many snaps against opponent's defenses.
THE PREDICTION: Truthfully, the only variable in Tech's quarterback equation is the level of Graham Harrell's consistency. We know he will decimate the vast majority of defenses he faces, and when he does that, the Red Raiders do not lose.
But will Harrell avoid the huge letdown games? Tech can still compete and even win against solid teams when Harrell is not hitting on all eight cylinders, but they cannot defeat Big 12 competition when he throws a rod in the first quarter.
The talent surrounding Harrell is the best he's ever had, and should help smooth out his performances. The offensive line will be as good as any in the nation. Mike Crabtree is indisputably the best receiver in college football. There are other quality receivers in Eric Morris, Ed Britton and Lyle Leong. In Aaron Crawford, Kobey Lewis, Baron Batch and Harrison Jeffers, Harrell will have a talented quartet of runners to keep defenses honest. And speaking of defense, Tech's should be good enough to ensure that Harrell will not have to put 40-plus points on the board game in and game out to ensure victory.
It is all set up for Harrell to go out in a blaze of gridiron glory. I believe he will do so.
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