Few coaches in college football enter the season with a hot seat any hotter than the one occupied by fifth-year Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury. And that puts even more added importance on picking up a season-opening win Saturday afternoon for the Red Raiders who host a FCS school, Eastern Washington of the Big Sky Conference.
Kingsbury, who is 24-26 overall in Lubbock and is coming off a disappointing 5-7 campaign, knows the dangers of perhaps overlooking an FCS school like Eastern Washington, which upset Pac-12 power Washington State 45-42 last season and also won at Oregon State in 2013. “We’re very aware, obviously,” Kingsbury said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches’ teleconference noting that his old mentor at Texas Tech, Washington State head coach Mike Leach, lost to the Eagles last season. “We all have relationships with Mike Leach, and Eastern Washington beat them last year at their place starting off the season. We know we’ll need to play our best game. They’re a very talented team.” Making this one an almost must-win for Texas Tech is the fact the Red Raiders’ schedule doesn’t get any easier with a nonconference home date against Arizona State and a road game at Houston before a tough Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, FSN. LINE: None.
ABOUT EASTERN WASHINGTON (12-2 in 2016): The Eagles are ranked No. 4 and No. 5 in major FCS polls despite losing head coach Beau Baldwin, who left to become offensive coordinator at Cal, and standout wide receiver Cooper Kupp, a third round NFL pick of the Los Angeles Rams who had 428 career receptions and 73 receiving touchdowns. The good news is that junior quarterback Gage Gubrud returns after completing 386-of-570 passes for 5,160 yards, 48 touchdowns and 14 interceptions en route to FCS Player of the Year honors by the Touchdown Club of Columbus. Longtime offensive-line coach Aaron Best, now in his 21st year in the program as a player and coach, takes over for Baldwin as head coach.
ABOUT TEXAS TECH (5-7 in 2016): Redshirt 6-4 senior Nic Shimonek will take over at quarterback for Patrick Mahomes III who passed for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns last season before heading off to the NFL where he was a first-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs. Shimonek has a strong group of receivers, led by seniors Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson, who both had eight touchdown catches a year ago, and junior Keke Coutee, who was second on the team with 890 receiving yards. The big question is how much improved will be a defense that finished dead last in the NCAA in total defense last season but returns seven starters as well as junior linebacker Dakota Allen, the team’s second leading tackler as a freshman in 2015 before heading off to junior college for a year after getting charged with felony robbery, a case that was later dismissed.
1. Texas Tech has won 20 of its last 21 season openers, including 14 in a row which is the fourth longest streak nationally behind Florida (27), Ohio State (16) and Alabama (15).
2. Allen, the focus of the Netflix series Last Chance U, had 117 tackles, two sacks and an interception last season at East Mississippi Community College.
3. The Red Raiders allowed 40 or more points in eight games last season.
PREDICTION: Texas Tech 55, Eastern Washington 34