Texas Tech football: Independence Bowl bid a reminder of 2023’s disappointment

Texas Tech football: Independence Bowl bid a reminder of 2023’s disappointment

We all knew this was coming since Texas Tech beat UCF on November 18 to get to six wins.  At that point, Joey McGuire’s bunch was assured of a bowl appearance but it was destined to be the most uninspiring of bids.

Sunday, we learned that the Red Raiders will face Cal in the Independence Bowl on December 16 in what is the worst possible situation for Texas Tech sports fans.  That’s because the game will kick off at 8:15 pm CST on the same night that Grant McCasland’s basketball team will face Vanderbilt in Fort Worth at 6:30 pm CST.  Also, that day is when graduation ceremonies will be held in Lubbock for Texas Tech.

Not that many Red Raiders were itching to take a December trip to Shreveport, Louisana, though.  And that’s the point.  This uninspiring bowl matchup against a 6-6 team from a university that cares more about preserving the health of redwood trees and finding a new hole in the O-Zone layer so that it can further decry the degradation of human existence as we know it than it cares about winning football games is a reminder of how disappointing 2023 is destined to be for Texas Tech football fans.

Sure, the optimistic among us can take solace in the fact that Tech rallied from a 1-3 start and a 3-5 record at the end of October to get to a 13th game.  If that’s how you feel, you are a better and more well-adjusted fan than I am. (Which isn’t saying much.)

The rest of us can’t help but think back to late August when we all had dreams of making a Cinderella run to the Big 12 championship game.  Some even bought into the scattered opinions that Tech could be the 2023 version of last year’s TCU team and crash the College Football Playoff party.

That wasn’t crazy talk, either.  Tech was returning 18 starters from a team that went 8-5 the season before.  McGuire had beaten both Texas and OU in his first season as a college head coach.  QB Tyler Shough was going to return for one last season and this was going to be the year he played a full 13 (or more) games.  This team was supposed to be 14 points better than last year’s team.  The nation wasn’t ready for 60 minutes of us…

Cal…in…Shreveport.  That’s the reality we have facing us after all that offseason hope and hype.

Maybe that’s why so many of us felt this offseason like the line Zach Bryan sings in “Motorcycle Drive By” that says “Walkin’ such a tight rope with my damn high hopes”.  We all feared that Tech would disappoint as the program so often has over the years and that’s exactly what happened.

The point isn’t really to besmirch the good name of the Independence Bowl.  Honestly, Tech didn’t have any appealing bowl options.  That’s what happens when you limp to a 6-6 record.

The Birmingham Bowl?  Yippie!  The Armed Forces Bowl vs. Air Force in Fort Worth at TCU’s home stadium?  Be still my heart.  Honestly, neither of those games would have done any more for this program than a matchup with Cal.

What is there to gain from any of those potential bowl appearances or the matchup with the Golden Bears?  Nothing of real substance.

Sure, we can update the number of bowl appearances displayed on the east facade of Jones AT&T Stadium to 41.  Yeah, we can claim during the offseason that three straight bowl trips are a sign of forward momentum.  I guess you can be happy that the program gets two more weeks of practice (of course, if you think this program is two weeks’ worth of practice away from being fixed, you are fooling yourself).

Honestly, though, this Bowl bid feels so much more hollow than most in this program’s history.  In 2021, there was excitement to play in the Liberty Bowl because Tech hadn’t been to the postseason since 2015.  What’s more, that year’s bowl opponent was former Red Raider head coach Mike Leach and his Mississippi State Bulldogs, the first time “The Pirate” had faced the school at which he became a college football coaching superstar.

Last season, a three-game winning streak that included a thrilling OT win over Oklahoma to close out the regular season sent Tech into the Texas Bowl against Ole Miss with plenty of exuberance.

This year?  On the heels of a 57-7 loss to Texas in the regular-season finale, the last game we get to see until September will be against Cal in what will be a half-empty stadium in a city known most for its floating casinos and the fools that blow their paychecks in them.

That’s only slightly better than staging an intrasquad scrimmage at Lowry Field.  The only saving grace is that it will extend by a couple of weeks the Texas Tech football season making the wait until the 2024 kickoff infinitesimally shorter.

Forgive me for my negativity but I just can’t celebrate this bowl game bid.  This season was supposed to be so much better.

Of course, we knew after the week-one loss to Wyoming and especially after the week-two loss at home to Oregon that Tech wasn’t going to fulfill our wildest dreams this year.  Still, though, this team had all the makings of being relevant in the Big 12…or so we thought.

Instead, Tech fits the description of perhaps the most disappointing team in the NCAA this season. Now, we are faced with the reality of a postseason matchup with a team that hails from a disappearing conference and is headed to another one that might dissolve in a year or two.

The last time Tech faced Cal in a bowl, there was tons of sizzle for the Red Raiders. Facing Aaron Rogers and the No. 4 Golden Bears in the 2004 Holiday Bowl, Tech football fans were fired up for the opportunity to be on the national stage against a team that came within one win of possibly playing for a BCS National Championship.

In that game, Cal had no motivation to be there and sat several starters.  Tech was fired up and ran away with a 45-31 win.

This year, will either team have any motivation to play or will this devolve into a tickle fight between two teams that are the definition of mediocrity?  It’s a sad ending to a season that began with such promise.  There will probably be more excitement that night at one of the craps tables at the El Dorado Casino.