This week, College Football Hall of Fame ballots were sent out to voters, and included among the candidates is Texas Tech football legend Graham Harrell. Regardless of whether the former Red Raider quarterback, who is now the offensive coordinator at Purdue, receives the nomination this year, there’s no denying that his NCAA career warrants Hall of Fame induction.
The annual poll includes approximately 80 former players, making the selection process quite difficult, but few names on the poll can boast the kind of career accomplishments that Harrell can.
Also nominated in 2022, Harrell is the most talented and winning passer to ever play for the Red Raiders. Of course, he played an important role in helping transform the game of football at every level, starring as the most successful QB in the historic career of former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, whose open offensive game plan was considered a trick up to Harrell. and his top target wide receiver Michael Crabtree (who was announced as a member of the HOF in January of last year) helped lead his team to No. 2 in national polls at the end of the 2008 season, meaning Harrell’s influence on the game cannot be denied.
A 4-star recruit when he signed with Tech from Ennis, Texas, Harrell was the most lauded player to sign with the program during the Leach era. He was Texas’ 2004 Gatorade High School Player of the Year and the 15th overall recruit in the state.
After redshirting in 2004, he only saw local duty as a backup to senior Cody Hodges in 2005. However, the following season, he was elevated to the starting role, becoming the only redshirt freshman under Leach to be named the starter in Lubbock.
In his first year in charge of the offense, he threw for 4,555 yards with 38 TDs and 11 INTs. He ended the season creating what was at the time the greatest comeback in NCAA football history, bringing Tech back from a 38-7 deficit midway through the third quarter to claim a 44-41 overtime thriller that drew the national attention for the feisty young QB.
As a junior, he had one of the best seasons of any collegiate QB in history. Throwing for 5,708 yards and 48 touchdowns while completing 71.8% of the 512 passes he threw, he helped lead what was the youngest team at the Power 5 level of play that year to a 9-4 season and a ranking among the Top 25 to finish the year.
Of course, their effectiveness was greatly increased by the presence of Crabtree, a redshirt rookie who caught 134 passes for 1,962 yards and 22 scores in his first college campaign. Together, this duo set the tone for what would be an unforgettable 2008 season.
With opposing defenses banking on the Harrell-to-Crabtree connection, an improved ground game and Tech putting up the best defense of the Leach era in 2008, Harrell’s overall numbers dipped just a tick as he threw for 5,111 yards, 45 TDs and only 9 choices. Of course, included that season was the iconic TD pass to Crabtree to knock out No. 1 Texas in Lubbock with just a second left on the clock.
That play alone is one of the most memorable in college football history and remains the first highlight people think of when Graham Harrell is mentioned. However, he provided many other memorable plays, such as the TD pass to Robert Johnson in the final minute of the 2007 victory over Texas A&M. He also led Tech to a thrilling 14-point comeback in the 4th quarter against Virginia in the 2008 Gator Bowl to end his junior season.
When Harrell graduated, he held the NCAA record for career TD passes (134) and career touchdowns (147) and to this day, he still holds 8 NCAA records. However, his impact goes far beyond what he did statistically.
Leading the Red Raiders to No. 2 in the national polls in mid-November 2008, he helped prove to the nation that Leach’s “Air Raid” offense was not just a fortuitous scheme. Instead, he showed that the pass-happy system could take a team to the top of the sport.
As a result, programs across the country, and eventually even NFL teams, began to fully implement “Air Raid” or incorporate principles of it into their passing attacks. Now, the influence of what Harrell, Crabtree and Leach were able to accomplish has seeped into every level of the game, from youth football to the NFL.
Crabtree is already in the Hall of Fame and in three years, it will be fascinating to see if Leach will be placed on the ballot despite not having the . 600 career winning percentage that is normally required of coaches for induction into the college Hall of Fame. . If there’s any common sense to that process, the recently deceased pirate will also be a Hall of Famer at some point, considering how his fingerprints are all over the game in the modern era.
Harrell also belongs to this elite group. While Pat Mahomes is the poster child for Texas Tech football these days, no QB in Tech history has achieved what Harrell did for the Red Raiders and few in NCAA history have done more in terms of evolving the game. That’s why Harrell deserves to be enshrined in Atlanta.