Texas Tech football: Ranking the 2023 home games by difficulty

Texas Tech football: Ranking the 2023 home games by difficulty
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Nov 26, 2022; Lubbock, Texas, USA; The Texas Tech Red Raiders celebrate with fireworks after an overtime victory over the Oklahoma Sooners at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Has the magic returned to Jones AT&T Stadium?  Is playing Texas Tech in Lubbock again one of the most dreaded tasks in college football?  For the upcoming season to be as successful as many are hoping, those questions need to be answered in the affirmative.

For years, playing in Lubbock was something that visiting teams feared.  Since Tech joined the Southwest Conference in 1960, Jones Stadium has been a house of horrors for high-profile and ranked teams.

That was especially true in the Mike Leach era when the atmosphere at The Jones was electric helping propel the Red Raiders to marquee wins over the likes of A&M, Nebraska, Texas, and Oklahoma with regularity.  Unfortunately, though, over the past decade, Tech was unable to keep the mystique alive when playing at home.

In fact, from 2013 (the start of the Kliff Kingsbury era) to 2021 (the end of the Matt Wells era) Tech was just 13-27 in Lubbock against teams from a Power 5 conference.  That included a stretch from 2016-2018 in which the Red Raiders managed only two home Big 12 wins and both were against Kansas.

However, 2022 saw that trend start to reverse itself.  In fact, in Joey McGuire’s debut season, Tech went 6-1 overall in Lubbock and 4-1 in league play.  What’s more, last season also gave us a home win over a Houston team that came into the week-two contest at Jones Stadium ranked 25th in the nation.

Of course, the two marquee wins from that group were the overtime wins over Texas and Oklahoma.  It marked the first time in program history that the Red Raiders had taken down the Horns and Sooners in the same season and, make no mistake, each of those triumphs was critical in helping endear McGuire to a fanbase that had become fed up with losing games on their home turf.

This year, Tech will have another intriguing slate of games in Lubbock.  Oregon, Kansas State, and TCU all come to town and all are ranked inside the top 20 in the preseason poll.

Also, contests with Houston and Central Florida, two of the four new members of the conference, will be intriguing.  The Cougars have history with Tech as former conference rivals in the S.W.C. and the Knights are expected to be one of the more dangerous mid-tier teams in the conference.

If Tech can again make Jones Stadium a house of horrors for visitors, then there will be an opportunity to make noise in the conference title race.  What will help is that we already know that the Oregon and TCU games will take place at night meaning two of the season’s biggest swing games will be played in front of an absolutely juiced crowd.

So let’s break down the home schedule and rank the games by difficulty.  Of course, there’s no surprise as to which game will be the easiest.

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It is hard to know what to expect from Sonny Dykes’ team in his second year.  After reaching the National Championship Game last season, the Frogs will be replacing QB Max Duggan, WR Quentin Johnson, RB Kendre Miller, and DB Trevious Hodges-Tomlinson among others.

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Also, they will be replacing offensive coordinator, Garrett Riley, who is now at Clemson in the same role.  What’s more, a defense that was just 95th nationally in points allowed is having to replace two starting defensive ends.

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However, Dykes has landed some potentially massive transfers.  Former five-star recruit Trey Sanders, an Alabama transfer, will be asked to step up as a key running back option.  What’s more, another Alabama transfer, wide receiver JoJo Earle, is now a Frog but he has only caught 24 passes in two college seasons.

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What will likely determine TCU’s success this year, though, will be the play of QB Chandler Morris.  Having played in no more than five games in any of his three NCAA seasons thus far, he won the starting job to open last year but was injured in week one and lost his spot to Duggan.

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Morris is a true unknown as a QB.  He’s only thrown 108 passes in his career and has just four TD passes as well.  Thus, it would be better for Tech to face him early in the year as he is getting used to being a starter rather than in November when he should have found his stride.

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Still, Morris has a lot to prove before anyone will count on TCU as a contender again this year.  The Frogs open the season ranked No. 17 in large part out of respect for what they did a season ago and as a tip of the cap to Dykes but an incredibly easy six-game stretch to open the year could help ease them into the season.

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Speaking of Dykes, it will have to be somewhat emotional for him to return to Lubbock and coach against the program with which his father, Spike, made his name.  Hopefully, he won’t have a happy homecoming and the Red Raiders will figure out a way to end TCU’s ugly winning streak at Jones Stadium.

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Nov 3, 2018; Lubbock, TX, USA; A general overview of Jones AT&T Stadium during the game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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No. 2: Kansas State @ Texas Tech

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Another team that has befuddled the Red Raiders, both in Lubbock and in Manhattan, Kansas, in recent years is Kanas State.  The Wildcats will bring a seven-game winning streak in this series to the South Plains this year on October 14th in a game that will have massive Big 12 implications.

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Kansas State has been tabbed the No. 2 team in the preseason Big 12 poll and for good reason.  Though they will not have spectacular RB Deuce Vaughn or first-round NFL Draft pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah, they will remain one of the best teams in the conference.

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Will Howard is back to be QB1 after taking over that job in the middle of last season and guiding the Cats to the Big 12 Championship.  Though he is not dynamic, he is as solid as can be and last year, he put up 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns in just seven games.

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Protecting him will be a line that returns all five starters.  That includes potential All-American guard Cooper Beebe, the latest in a long line of maulers to block for the Wildcats.

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On defense, tackling machine Daniel Green returns to patrol the middle of the defense.  Last year, he had only 58 tackles due to nagging injuries but the year prior, he registered 89, including 16 for loss.

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Coaching the Wildcats is the underrated Chris Klieman, who is an interesting coach for Tech fans to watch.  Hired the same offseason that the Red Raiders made the mistake of hiring Matt Wells, his success is a reminder to everyone in scarlet and black of where our program could be had Kirby Hocutt and Co. made a better hire in 2018.

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Klieman has gone 30-20 at KSU in four seasons with only one losing campaign.  Of course, he also has the most recent conference title on his resume and it should surprise no one if he gets his team back to Arlington this year.  Thus, if Tech wants to get to KSU’s level of success, this tough home game is one that needs to go the way of the good guys.

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Nov 10, 2018; Lubbock, TX, USA; A Texas Tech Red Raiders fan shows his support for the team in the game against the Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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No. 1: Oregon @ Texas Tech

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There’s a reason the September 9th home opener against Oregon is arguably one of the biggest non-conference games in the history of Jones Stadium.  That’s because a team as good as the Ducks rarely come to Lubbock in the non-conference, especially in years when Tech appears to have a top-25 caliber team as well.

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Make no mistake, Oregon is loaded with talent.  It starts at QB where Bo Nix will conclude a college career that began at Auburn and which feels as if it has been going on since the start of the Obama administration.

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The Heisman hopeful has thrown for nearly 11,000 yards and 68 TDs in his career this year.  Last year, he completed a ridiculous 71.9% of his passes and had 29 TD passes with only seven picks.

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Also, running backs Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington return after amassing a combined 1,837 yards last fall.  What’s more, 2022’s leading receiver, Troy Franklin is back after catching 61 passes for 891 yards and nine TDs last year.

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On defense, a solid but not special unit has been fortified with the additions of transfer linebackers from Iowa, and Arizona State as well as defensive backs from Alabama and Ole Miss and a defensive end from South Carolina.  Will those new faces take the Ducks’ defense to an elite level?  If so, they could compete with USC for a PAC-12 title and a spot in the playoff.

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They will have to get past Tech in Lubbock, though.  This night game will be a litmus test for just how far the Red Raiders have come under McGuire.  It will also tell us just how much of the Jones Stadium magic has returned to the South Plains.

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Tech hasn’t hosted a ranked Power 5 non-conference team since 1994 when No. 1 Nebraska rolled through town and picked up a 42-16 win.  Thus, this rare marquee non-conference home showdown is going to be special.  But it won’t be an easy task for the Red Raiders as Oregon is probably the best team Tech will face this year.

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