Texas Tech football: 2020 season will rest on lowest-rated class of this decade

TUCSON, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 14: Quarterback Alan Bowman #10 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders warms up before the start of the NCAAF game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TUCSON, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 14: Quarterback Alan Bowman #10 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders warms up before the start of the NCAAF game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

If the Texas Tech football team is going to have a rebound season in 2020 after going 4-8 this fall, the lowest-rated recruiting class of the decade is going to have to come through.

Years of speculation about Kliff Kingsbury’s job security took a toll on the last two recruiting classes of his tenure.  Most notably was the 2018 class, which was ranked just 72nd in the nation and last in the Big 12.

Recruits were understandably hesitant to play for a coach that they did not know was going to remain in place for the next year, much less the next four.  That’s where the dragging of his feet by Kirby Hocutt, who was hesitant to act on the Kingsbury decision truly cost this program.

But if the 2020 season is going to be a step forward under Matt Wells, the 2018 class is going to have to step up in a big way.  Now set to be juniors and redshirt sophomores, the worst recruiting class in the last decade for the Red Raiders will play a more prominent role than even the 2017 group, which is set to be seniors this year.

Of course, Alan Bowman is the presumed starting QB.  Presumed is the operative word here because in two years, he’s yet to stay healthy for a full season.

But if this offense is going to reach its full potential in 2020, which will be imperative given that the defense isn’t likely to make significant strides after suffering heavy losses this year, it would seem like Bowman would need to be the man leading the way.  That’s because behind him will be redshirt freshman Maverick McIvor, who has played only one half of football in the last two years because of injuries and true freshman Donovan Smith, who has only one year of experience as a starting QB.

Some may be skeptical about Bowman given that the offense didn’t look like a juggernaut in the three games he played this fall.  But after another offseason in David Yost’s system and with more time to get on the same page as his starting wide receivers, Erik Ezukanma and T.J. Vasher, both of whom missed time in the spring or fall camps, Bowman should look more comfortable this fall.

Another player from the 2018 class that will be a focal point of the offense in 2020 will be SaRodorick Thompson.  2019’s breakout performer, the redshirt freshman ran for 765 yards and 12 touchdowns and clearly emerged as the lead running back for this program.

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He will be supported by another of his classmates, Ta’Zhawn Henry.  As a sophomore, the speedy runner was slowed a bit by injuries and finished with only 340 yards this fall, one yard less than he ran for in 2018.  He also saw his touchdown total dip from 8 to 3.

Speaking of offensive weapons that emerged in 2019, Ezukanma, the highest-rated signee in 2018, finished the year as Tech’s leading receiver.  After a slow start to his season in non-conference play, he emerged as a nice option on the outside and had a touchdown in each of Tech’s last three games on his way to 664 yards and 4 touchdowns.  If he can develop into a true No. 1 receiver in 2020, the offense will look exponentially improved.

Protecting Alan Bowman is likely to be Weston Wright.  An afterthought for fans when he signed in 2018, he was able to step in for the injured Jack Anderson at right guard this year and play rather well in the final eight games.   Now, he will head into the offseason as a favorite to earn one of the three starting jobs along the line left open after the graduation of this year’s seniors.

But the onus won’t fall just on the offensive players.  A number of 2018 defensive signees need to give this program quality snaps in 2020.

It is time for Xavier Benson to become a regular pass-rush factor in his third year in the program.  Set to be a redshirt sophomore, he had 57 tackles this year but only one sack.  Now, he needs to emerge as a true disruptive force off the edge in order for this defense to hold its own.

Jaylon Hutchings was a bit of a surprise in 2019.  A low 3-star signee from Forney in 2018, he became the starting nose tackle for the Red Raiders this fall and played admirably with 26 tackles, including three for loss.   Can he step up and take his game to yet another level in 2020?

One other name from the 2018 class to watch is John Scott III.  He is the player who sustained a gunshot wound at an apartment complex pool party this summer as he was trying to diffuse a situation.  Thus, he missed this entire season while he recovered from being shot in the abdomen, which nearly cost him his life.

If Scott can come back and give the Red Raiders some depth along the line, it will be an important step towards fixing one of the 2019 team’s most fatal flaws.  Needless to say, everyone is rooting for Scott to make his comeback complete after a needless act of gun violence cost him dearly.

When the class of 2018 stepped on campus, not much was expected of them but because of this program’s lack of depth, many were thrust into early action in their first two years in Lubbock.  Now, they are set to begin their third year in the program and they will form the backbone of the team.  If the lowest-ranked class of the last decade can prove to rise above its raking, 2020 could be a bit of a pleasant surprise.