Despite several programs wanting to claim it, Texas Tech was the program that first brought the Air Raid offense to major college football, under the direction of former coach Mike Leach. The mad pirate of the plains brought a swagger and a sword to the west Texas town, and gave a moribund program hope where they hadn’t been much in years. After being run out of town, he was succeeded by the Red Raider’s favorite son, former Tech QB, and Ryan Gosling doppelganger, Kliff Kingsbury. But three years in to Kliff’s reign, Tech has done little of note on a national scale, So, the question remains, can anyone really win at Tech?
POINT: Texas Tech has not won a conference championship since 1994, and only has a single divisional title, in 2008, in the meantime. The Raiders have consistently put up big numbers and produced excellent college quarterbacks, but have yet to win a major bowl game. Once again, the Raiders have started hot in 2015, knocking off Arkansas on their way to a 3-0 start, and their record has coaches, players, and fans feeling good about their chances. Is there something in the water in Lubbock, or can Kingsbury finally break through and win the big one?
PRO: HToadSwayze: First off, Mike Leach was one of my childhood heros. Growing up in Lubbock, Leach was larger than life and the air raid offense was was taking the nation by storm; or haboob (dust storm) if you’re from Lubbock. He was so close to winning the Big XII in 2008….and yet….so far. Even though they were dealing with injuries on the defensive side of the ball (where have I heard that before?), they got obliterated in Norman and yes, it was embarassing. It still pains me to think about how good they were that year and the fact that they could have competed for the big one. But all that aside, what Mike Leach built in his time in Lubbock was incredible. The energy behind the team from the city and the school was unparalleled during those years since the days of the 1930s and Pete Cawthon, the coach who led the nation in scoring and who’s dominance brought about the team’s current mascot, the Red Raiders. They never had a losing record the entire time Leach was the coach there. They only had a losing record in the Big XII one time, in 2000, Leach’s first year as head coach. Let’s not forget, the Big XII South was akin to the SEC West in those days and they had to compete against National Championship caliber teams almost every year. So, can you build a winner in Lubbock? The answer is yes. Had Mike Leach stayed (thanks Craig James), they might have, and likely would have, gotten over that hump. Especially when you consider that OU and UT fell off BIG time shortly after he left. RIP Mike Leach. Will they be able to get back there with teams like TCU and Baylor successfully competing for the recruits they used to get? That remains to be seen. Mike Leach’s real success started in 2007 when Ruffin McNeil was promoted to DC and they finally found a defense. David Gibbs has an excellent resume and I believe that he was a great hire for the Red Raiders. If they are to recapture their "Swing Your Sword" magic, Kingsbury and Gibbs are they best chance they have had in years.
CON: Coach Melissa: Tech has had the tickets to the kingdom for years, but never quite seems to get past the drawbridge. They rewrote the record books under the mad pirate of the air raid, but never won anything of significance. While they have had players that became stars, most can credit that to the system as much as anything. Guys like Kingsbury, Cumbie, Seth Doege, Graham Harrell, etc have put up ridiculous numbers in college, but haven’t seen them translate to success at the next level. Other than the rare outlier (ie: Michael Crabtree), the Red Raiders have struggled to attract that upper echelon of talent to Lubbock. Now, I haven’t spent much time in West Texas, but from what I understand, I’m not missing much ;). Texas Tech is a great college community, sure, but anymore, you have to have more to offer to these kids. And with the way BU and TCU are recruiting and competing in the Big 12, on top of what the traditional powers are doing - not to mention OU going to the spread system - the days of their being enough talent to go around might be ending. Shoot, Kansas, Houston and SMU are pulling in four star kids! Someone has to get pushed to the bottom of the barrel, and Tech might be the team that is. I’m not going to say TT can’t win the Big 12 - just because they haven’t doesn’t mean they won’t. But theirs is as big an uphill climb as anyone’s.
POINT: Pat Mahomes has been a phenom since he took over at quarterback for the Red Raiders. Through three games this season, he has thrown for 1,029 yards with a 66% completion percentage, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. His QB rating is 161.3 according to ESPN. With a good running back in Washington and a veteran offensive line, do they have what it takes to outgun Trevone Boykin and his arsenal of offensive weapons?
CON: Coach Melissa: Do they? If Mahomes gets hot and cuts down his ints, they can - but they won’t. Saturday’s game isn’t going to come down to Mahomes outplaying Boykin, it’s going to come down to which defense gets that one extra stop or that one big special teams play. Tech doesn’t have the offensive line of the Frogs, and they don’t have the running back depth - and outside of Jakeem Grant, they don’t yet have a bonafide star on the outside. This is a good offense, maybe really good, but it is in the early stages of growth and currently lacks the experience and senior leadership that the other sideline possesses. If Boykin protects the ball and the defense doesn’t give up too many chunk plays, the Frogs will be able to outscore the Raiders with ease. I really think this comes down to special teams, frankly - one of the most overlooked issues surrounding TCU after losing so many starters is how it has decimated the coverage teams. TCU and Texas Tech have two of the most exciting punt/kick returners in the conference, and one of them could make the play that ends up being the difference in the game. Guys that had a chance to be stars on that third unit are now in the starting lineup - who is going to make the big plays on that unit defensively for TCU?
PRO: HToadSqayze: TCU’s defense had quite a bit of trouble with a dual threat quarterback last weekend. Mahomes is not quite the elusive runner that Matt Davis is, but he can still tote the rock. He ran for two touchdowns against Arkansas last week and two the previous week against UTEP. While Tech also doesn’t have a receiver with the height and NFL-esque body of Courtland Sutton, they showed that they don’t need one to have success with the deep ball in last year’s season finale against Baylor. TCU can’t have an off day offensively on the road, which unfortunately we have been known to do. If the offense comes out and sputters like we did on the road against Minnesota, Tech could very well take advantage and jump out to a big lead. While it’s not quite the atmosphere TCU dealt with to begin the season, Tech’s fans are rowdy and Lubbock is a really tough place to play. Maybe more important than that is the fact that Tech simply has nothing to lose. They went 4-8 last year. Nobody expected them to be any good this year. Some of the most passionate Tech fans that I know didn't even bother to re-up their season tickets this year. At 3-0 and with Kansas and Iowa State being what they are, Tech already has a pretty easy path to a bowl. Any real success they have in conference play is just gravy at this point. On the other hand, Boykin and Co. now have an even bigger burden on their shoulders than they did to start the season. With the injury exodus of TCU’s defensive starters, they know it’s going to be all on them, at least for the next several games. As bad as Tech’s rush defense still is, and they gave up 170 yards on 28 carries to Arkansas’ Alex Collins last week, If Boykin is off and/or throws another second half interception, the shootout could go the way of the Red Raiders.
Ultimately, this is one of the more intriguing matchups from the first month of the season, and the biggest measuring stick conference wise for each of these teams in the early going. One team will have a chance to reestablish their position at the top of the Big 12 mountain, while the other is looking for the signature win that propels them to darkhorse status. Can Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech get it done? Or will Gary Patterson work enough magic on the defensive side of the ball to hold on to that number one spot?