For 10 seasons, Mike Leach captivated the masses in Lubbock, Texas, through his oddball behavior, which included weaving tales about pirates and other offbeat topics having little to do with X’s and O’s.
Of course, Leach won more than a few games along the way during his day job as Texas Tech’s football coach.
In the eyes of some, he was the best thing to happen to Lubbock since hometown rock ‘n’ roll legend Buddy Holly. But Leach was chased out of town for allegedly mistreating a backup wide receiver by locking him in a dark storage building after the player had suffered a slight concussion.
So out with Leach and in with former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who has quickly put his stamp on the Red Raiders program in some subtle ways. The loosey-goosey culture of the past has apparently been replaced with a dress code and punctuality, among other things.
How the Red Raiders, who return 14 starters from last season’s 9-4 team, respond to the change in leadership will begin to take shape Sunday when they host Southern Methodist.
The rejuvenated Mustangs, who won eight games last year, are mentioned as a dark-horse contender in Conference USA.
Although it is a feel-good story for an SMU program that has spent almost two decades digging out of death penalty sanctions, the Mustangs must endure the loss of defensive end Chase Kennemer, cornerback Bryan McCann and safety Rock Dennis.
On the other side of the ball, promising sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron loses a 1,200-yard rusher (Shawnbrey McNeal) and a 1,300-yard receiver (Emanuel Sanders).
SMU has covered only three of its past 11 games against Big 12 opponents, so lay the 13½ points and take Tuberville in his Texas Tech debut.
Four more plays for opening weekend (home team in CAPS):
■ Texas (-31) over Rice — This nonconference matchup at Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, is billed as a home game for the Owls. But the Longhorns defeated Rice by 41, 44 and 42 points in their last three meetings, and Texas boasts considerable edges on the field in terms of talent and in the stands in terms of fans.
■ Purdue (+11) over NOTRE DAME — Notre Dame has a new coach, new quarterback, new center and new left tackle, but the same overblown expectations from some members of the media and its fan base. Brian Kelly might eventually get the Irish back among the nation’s elite, but Rome was not built in a day.
■ CLEMSON (-27) over North Texas — The Tigers lost arguably the top offensive player in college football last season (running back C.J. Spiller) to the NFL, but they have enough pieces back to dominate North Texas, which has covered only three of its past 22 nonconference road games.
■ Virginia Tech (+1½) over Boise State — In recent years, Boise State has captured the hearts of many fans for its ability to knock off programs with bigger names and greater resources.
The Broncos, however, are now the hunted instead of the hunter. Virginia Tech will relish being cast as the underdog, and it is 11-4 against the spread in this role the past nine seasons.
Texas-based handicapper Paul Stone of Vegassportsauthority.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.