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July 6, 2009

Fact or fiction: Five or more All-Big 12 picks?

The 2008 Texas Tech Red Raiders had arguably the greatest "name" appeal of any Tech squad in recent memory. And that brand name image stemmed almost exclusively from the presence of Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, and to a lesser extent Brandon Carter, whose wild physical appearance combined with excellent play captured the media's imagination.

The 2009 Red Raiders will begin the season at the opposite end of the publicity spectrum. With the exception of Carter, this team is a classic collection of no-names. That is not an insult or a reflection on the talent of the team. Rather, it is an indication of the fact that most of the team's most talented players have yet to fully emerge and blossom.

The relative obscurity of the current collection of Red Raiders, in turn, could affect how many players bring home postseason hardware. But will it?

Fact or Fiction? At least five Red Raiders will be named First or Second-Team All-Big 12.

Roughly eight members of the 2009 ballclub have the requisite combination of talent and experience to ultimately land on All-Big 12 teams. Obviously, unless the Red Raiders have a monstrous season, all eight of them will not be so honored. But if this team exceeds expectations by a significant margin, and if the team's most talented players can make a name for themselves, it is entirely possible that five of the eight will earn All Big 12 honors.

The current team boasts four all star candidates on either side of the ball. On offense, running back Baron Batch, guard Brandon Carter, inside receiver Detron Lewis and tackle Marlon Winn all have what it takes to be recognized as among the conference's elite at their positions.

On defense, the heavy guns are middle linebacker Brian Duncan, defensive lineman Brandon Sesay, cornerback Jamar Wall, and tackle Colby Whitlock.

The lone lock to make All-Big 12 is Carter. He emerged from relative obscurity a year ago to earn All-America honors and is expected to do so again. Along with Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Carter is the conference's most prominent offensive lineman.

Batch is a player who is flying under the radar, but like a stealth bomber, is likely to sneak up on the opposition and leave it a flaming wreck. Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter and Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray go into the season as consensus picks to be the conference's best running backs. But outside of those two players, there's frankly nobody who compares favorably to Batch. I, therefore, think Batch will crash the party.

Brandon Carter's helpmate on the line, Marlon Winn, is slowly getting some notice. And well he should. He is arguably every bit as accomplished as Carter. If - and it's a fairly big if - the 2009 offensive line can protect Taylor Potts as well as it protected Harrell last year, somebody else besides Carter will earn All-Big 12 honors. And that person is likely to be Winn.

The defensive player most likely to gain all conference plaudits is Brian Duncan. The interior of Tech's defensive line should be strong and deep this season, which should free up Tech's experienced linebackers to clean house in the running game. Duncan is the man who will do the most cleaning, and he's also very good in coverage. Look for Duncan to be Tech's fourth All-Big 12 performer.

But will Detron Lewis, Brandon Sesay, Jamar Wall or Colby Whitlock make a fifth?

Sesay, assuming he overcomes his academic difficulties, should be a beast. But he's such an unknown with the media that earning all conference honors might be a stretch. He will also have to earn his way back into the good graces of his coaches.

Wall is a bit of a "name" player, but the possible absence of a Tech pass rush and playing in a retooled secondary could derail his all league bid.

That leaves Lewis and Whitlock.

It is difficult to imagine the Air Raid not landing a receiver on the All-Big 12 team, and Lewis sure has the talent to be the guy. Now he may not catch more passes that Lyle Leong, but if he can crack double digits in touchdowns, Lewis will make All-Big 12.

Whitlock is steadily developing into one of the conference's best down linemen. And if the Red Raider defense is as strong against the run as I think it will be, Whitlock's play will be a key reason why. That, in turn, should be good enough to land a spot on the All-Big 12 team.

And that makes a salty six: Batch, Carter, Winn, Lewis, Whitlock, Duncan.

Fact. At least five Red Raiders will make the First or Second Team All-Big 12.

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