Tech's new starting QB ready after three years as backup

Updated: August 29, 2003, 5:10 PM ET

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach doesn't see much difference between his new starting quarterback and high-profilers that he has coached before.

Start with Kliff Kingsbury, Leach's most recent charge who set numerous NCAA records including completions (1,231) and attempts (1,883) while at Tech.

Before that, Leach worked with Oklahoma's Josh Heupel and Kentucky's Tim Couch. Heupel led the Sooners to the national championship, and Couch was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

Leach's latest pupil, fifth-year senior B.J. Symons, will start his first game against Southern Methodist on Saturday night, and there is little doubt he'll put up plenty of passes in Leach's patented aerial offense.

"He's a good quarterback and he's up there with any I have ever coached, which is a pretty good group," Leach said. "He's as good as any of them."

Symons figures that questions about his talent and skepticism about the team's potential because of Kingsbury's departure will work in Tech's favor. He played backup behind Kingsbury for three years. His numbers in that time (545 yards, seven touchdowns) equal what Kingsbury tallied in some games.

"It's better for us if teams are going to relax and take us lightly because they think that we're not going to be as good" without Kingsbury, Symons said.

Leach joked about polls that give Tech little chance without Kingsbury.

"Some of the greatest minds in college sports have us rated about 75th, so we're obviously not very good, and we are going to try to build on that as the season goes on," he said.

Leach and Symons are counting on a supporting cast of receivers, three of whom finished in the top seven in catches-per-game in the Big 12 last season. Wes Welker, Micky Peters and Taurean Henderson, who set an NCAA freshman record last sesason with 98 catches, have experience in Leach's system.

"I just have to go out there and play my game and get the ball to these receivers and let them makes plays," Symons said. "We've lost Kliff, and he was a great player for us, but I think people are losing sight of the fact that we have playmakers that are coming back that have been making plays, and they are going to continue to make plays."

SMU's game against the Red Raiders last year gives second-year coach Phil Bennett reason to be upbeat. Tech needed two long fourth-quarter drives to beat SMU 24-14 in their first meeting since the Southwest Conference folded.

"It came down to the wire," Bennett said.

Sophomore Richard Bartel, who started the last five games in 2002 and helped the Mustangs double their passing yards and points over the season's first seven games, will try to capitalize on a Tech defense that could start five freshman.

Last season, Tech's defense gave up 403 yards per game and at least 28 points in nine games.

SMU running standout Keylon Kincade ran for 167 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries against Tech last season. That's about what Tech's rushing defense gave up per game last year, finishing eighth (164 yards per game) in the Big 12.

Bennett believes his players have a better feel for what is expected from them this year.

"I think we're better acclimated than we were a year ago," he said. "We have a better idea who are playmakers are."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index