Texas Tech enters a critical year in 2017 following a disappointing 5-7 campaign last season. The Red Raiders also seek to replace their leading receiver Jonathan Giles, who transferred to LSU, and the nation’s passing leader in Patrick Mahomes, who was drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs. Here are five players to watch in 2017:
QB Nic Shimonek
In any Kliff Kingsbury led offense, quarterback is a critical position. Seeking to replace a two year starter and absolute stud in Patrick Mahomes, Nic Shimonek will be at the helm for Texas Tech in 2017. The fifth year senior transferred from Iowa after the 2013 season and has patiently waited for his opportunity to start. In limited action last season – notably against relatively weaker opponents Stephen F. Austin, Kansas, and Iowa State – Shimonek impressed by throwing for 464 yards on 38 of 58 passing (66 percent) and four touchdowns. Shimonek has big shoes to fill, but he’s known as one of the hardest workers on the team and is very familiar with the offense he’ll be tasked with running in the fall.
WR Keke Coutee
With the departure of the aforementioned Jonathan Giles to LSU, Keke Coutee looks to be the main target from the slot position for the Red Raiders in 2017. As a sophomore last season, he was slightly inconsistent before coming on strong to end the year with an exclamation point. He caught 38 passes for 597 yards and four touchdowns in the final six games, capped off by a stellar eight catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns against Baylor. With Giles out of the picture, this gives Coutee the workload and the opportunity to show that his big games weren’t just flukes.
LB Dakota Allen
It’s no secret that Texas Tech’s defense has been atrocious statistically the last few seasons. In 2015, Allen was a rare bright spot on the defensive unit, amassing 87 tackles as a redshirt freshman. However, he was kicked off the team in 2016 for an off-field incident that left him at East Mississippi Community College (the subject of Netflix’s “Last Chance U” series) during his sophomore year. He’s earned an opportunity to return to Lubbock, and should immediately find himself back in the usual rotation at linebacker. Texas Tech fans hope he can return to the form they last saw him in as one of the surest tacklers on the gridiron.
DB Octavius Morgan
Octavius Morgan arrives at Texas Tech as a JUCO transfer from Butler County Community College, where he made a name for himself as an interception machine, grabbing nine during his two seasons there. He joins a secondary that played multiple freshmen last season and saw three regular contributors – Justis Nelson, Paul Banks III, and Keenon Ward – graduate. Morgan has been lauded as a physical specimen who can play corner, safety, or nickel as needed. The transition from junior college to Power 5 football is different for everyone, but Morgan has a chance to be the best defensive back in Tech’s secondary sooner rather than later.
OL Travis Bruffy
Texas Tech fans may remember Bruffy as a guy who scored a touchdown against Oklahoma State in Stillwater last season, after lining up as a tight end. He’ll be in a different role in 2017, after putting on a lot of weight and developing nicely, so much so that he’ll be trusted to protect Shimonek’s blind side at left tackle. Offensive line was a weak spot for Tech last year, as Mahomes often scrambled and the running game never got going. The coaches obvioulsy believe in Bruffy, showcased by moving him to the most crucial spot up front. If the gamble pays off, Bruffy could anchor a much improved unit for the Red Raiders.
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