1. What do you think holds teams back from using the Mike Leach spread? Is it a lack of ability to coach it, fear that it won't work with other players, or something else? Explain specifically what makes your offense tick.
It's pretty ugly when it doesn't work, but when it does, it's an absolute thing of beauty. Teams and coaches have to be patient, something that's not very common in today's coaching circles (see Auburn). Just like any other kind of offensive or defensive scheme, it takes commitment on the part of the administration and school to make sure that the coach is able to fully implement his system. Keep in mind that a lot of Texas Tech fans believe, me included, that the spread helped even the playing field for Texas Tech. Mike Leach was able to take traditionally less talented players, put up tremendous offensive numbers and win more than a handful of games, something his predecessor could not do on a consistent basis. The spread can work with just about any group of players, so long as they're talented, so long as the quarterback can quickly read a defense. If you have a quarterback that reacts slowly then it's disaster.
As to the specific portion of your question, what makes it tick is that Mike Leach has written the book on the spread, he knows it inside and out, and is able to teach his quarterbacks (I'm pretty sure its some sort of voodoo) how to quickly assess a situation and react correctly. There's nothing fancy to the plays, it's merely a matter of reading the defense. What's made this offense even better than in previous years is an absolutely insane athlete in Michael Crabtree, a quarterback who has had 3 years in the system in Graham Harrell, and two running backs that have run like their lives depended on it.
2. We've all heard the debate. SEC defenses look good because SEC offenses are so bad. Big XII offenses look good because Big XII defenses are so bad. Talk a little bit about Texas Tech's defense and why that argument (with respect to Big XII defenses) is wrong.
For Red Raider fans, the defense took huge strides this year and the biggest reason for the improvement has been up front, in particular the play of the two defensive ends, Brandon Williams (1st in the conference) and McKinner Dixon (6th in the conference). As I'm sure that Rebel fans are aware, having two guys who can rush the passer makes everything easier, especially in the Big 12. In previous years, Texas Tech would have one talented pass rusher, but not much elsewhere, however, with the arrival of McKinner Dixon, it meant that teams had to focus on both defensive ends. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that quite a few of the defensive players had another year under their belt as 8 of 11 starters returned from last year. A big part of the team's success was/is continuity, plus the defensive coordinator's willingness to put the most talented players on the field rather than play players who were maybe more experienced but not as talented (remember, Leach replaced defensive coordinators in the middle of the year of 2007).
3. Who's the best player on your team that no one talks about? How do you think he can impact this game?
I know you only asked for one, but receiver Detron Lewis on offense and linebacker Brian Duncan on defense. Lewis is Michael Crabtree-lite. He is a big receiver with speed, agility, and were it not for the incredible Mr. Crabtree, Lewis would be and probably will be next year, a bonafide star. Duncan may be the best linebacker at Texas Tech since Zach Thomas. Of course, that can be interpreted that there haven't been that many good linebackers since that time, and that's probably true, but Duncan is one of those rare players who is athletically gifted and able to correctly read an offensive play.
4. What has made this season different than other recent Texas Tech seasons where a high-powered offense yielded an 8 win team?
Two of the things mentioned above: improved pass rush and improved running game. Again, the improved pass rush made it easier on the team in general from top to bottom. A better pass rush helps the secondary, which allows for the safeties to help the run, which allows the linebackers to play a little more free in space, etc. It's cyclical.
The running game has really been a revelation this year. Texas Tech went from 3.13 yards a rush in 2007 to 4.71 in 2008 and there's no doubt that Leach has learned that a more balanced attack is a better offense. This may surpsise some folks, but I believe that Leach could care less about the passing statistics, it's all about putting the ball in the endzone, that's the ultimate goal, although I do think he believes that passing the ball is a more efficient way of accomplishing that goal. In any event, Leach's reliance on the rush meant that Harrell threw for 1,000 less yards than last year and 100 less plays, but more than 4 points more per game than in 2007. In fact, don't be surprised if you see a two tight-end set or a two running back set on Friday.
5. What is your prediction for the game? How will it play out?
I think this one is closer than many Texas Tech fans would like for it to be. I've always thought that one of the equalizers for the spread offensie is an athletic defense (i.e. Ole Miss) and if the defensive front can put pressure on Harrell and force him to make some bad throws then I really like the Rebels chances. However, I'm not sure how well Ole Miss will match up with Crabtree and Lewis on defense as these are two bigger receivers, one of them will be a top 5 pick in April's NFL draft. There's more size in the Texas Tech receiving corp than some might think and I think that's going to be the toughest matchup for the Rebels. I think Texas Tech is going to win every game (I'll be disappointed if you don't feel the same way about Ole Miss) so I'll take Texas Tech, 38-35.