Obviously, there is quite a bit on the line for Texas Tech this weekend. After a slow start to the season, the Red Raiders need to gain some traction after last week’s blowout of Tarleton State and string together some wins to start conference play in order to begin rewriting the narrative of 2023.
This is a game that is massive for McGuire as well. It isn’t that he is on the hot seat but this does have the feel of a turning point game in the season and maybe in his tenure overall.
Remember, McGuire is only 9-7 as a college head coach. That includes a record of just 7-7 against FBS opponents. What’s more, there is still a significant segment of the college football world that is skeptical about his ability to lead a program given his brief time as an assistant at Baylor and the fact that almost all of his accomplishments as a head coach have come in the high school ranks.
While McGuire likely couldn’t care less what people outside of Raiderland think about him, the world of NCAA football is all about perception, and for McGuire to start to get the benefit of the doubt from voters in the polls, from recruits, and from anyone else who can influence the way his program is viewed, he must win important games such as he will lead his team into on Saturday.
If Texas Tech is truly turning the corner, then beating a West Virginia team of this season’s caliber should be no problem; even on the road. The Mountaineers were picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll and will likely be starting their backup QB against the Red Raiders.
On the other hand, a loss on Saturday would be a troubling sign. It would be an indication that the rebuild that we all thought was off to such a great start is actually going to take longer than most Tech fans are hoping it will.
It has been a while since Tech has had a Big 12 opener with this much riding on it. Last year, the Red Raiders were playing with house money when they began conference play with a home win against Texas. Sure, everyone in scarlet and black wants to beat Texas at any opportunity but being as it was McGuire’s first season, we were still in the honeymoon phase when the Horns came to Lubbock last fall.
In 2021, just about everyone had already given up on the Matt Wells era when Tech began conference play in Austin and the 70-35 loss didn’t set the program back but rather only reaffirmed the widely-held notion that a change at head coach was needed.
The 2020 conference opener, also against Texas, was overshadowed by the fact that it was just the second game back from the sports hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 shutdown. In 2019, Matt Wells’ Big 12 debut came on the road against No. 6 Oklahoma, a game that no one expected to win (and Tech met those expectations in a 55-16 humiliation).
So, to find the last time Tech opened Big 12 play with as much pressure as it will this season was in 2018. That year, Kliff Kingsbury entered the season on the hot seat and a 47-27 loss to Ole Miss in the opener only cranked up the temperature. However, a 41-17 road win at No. 15 Oklahoma State in the conference opener would provide the embattled head coach a temporary respite from the pressure that was weighing on him.
Of course, that Big 12 opener didn’t lead to a winning season as injuries and poor coaching would see Tech finish 5-7 as Kingsubry lost his job. It’s a reminder that what happens in the conference opener doesn’t always portend what’s to come.
With that said, though, McGuire would still be well-served to make his life easier by guiding his team to a win over the Mountaineers. Doing so would potentially set up a winning streak to open conference play and could help turn the tide on a season that already hangs in the balance.
However, McGuire won’t be able to make a tackle or throw a pass this weekend. He can only put his players in a position to succeed. So let’s take a look at which of McGuire’s players have to come through in a big way against the Mountaineers.