Texas Tech football: Why the Red Raiders can compete for a Big 12 title

Texas Tech football: Why the Red Raiders can compete for a Big 12 title
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July 12, 2023; Arlington, TX, USA; The Big 12 Championship Trophy on display during the first day of Big 12 Media Days in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, July 12, 2023. Mandatory Credit: Sara Diggins-USA TODAY Sports

Though the 2023 Texas Tech football season is not off to the start that anyone in Raiderland expected, there is plenty left on the table this fall.  Most importantly, the dreams of a Big 12 title are still alive.

Sure, at just 1-2 on the year, Tech is no longer a trendy pick to reach the conference championship game.  However, the Big 12 journey is only beginning in earnest this week and with each game, teams will rise and fall in the minds of observers and fans.

Of course, it was fun to hear people talk about Joey McGuire’s team being a darkhorse College Football Playoff contender throughout the offseason.  Now, with that dream dead, some fans might have lost a significant portion of their enthusiasm for what this season could hold.

However, the possibility of a Big 12 Championship should also thrill people in scarlet and black.  That’s because it has been a remarkably long time since this program has won a conference championship.

The last time Tech won a conference title was in 1994 when the Red Raiders shared the league crown with Texas.  However, people in College Station like to point out that the Aggies actually had the best record in the Southwest Conference that season (6-0-1) but they were on probation thus allowing Tech and UT to share first place at 4-3 in SWC play.

That puts Tech’s conference championship drought at 28 seasons.  What’s more, the last time the program won an outright conference crown was 1976.  However, that is far from the length of Iowa State’s current drought.

Remarkably, the Cyclones have not won a conference championship since 1912.  That’s one of the longest droughts in the NCAA.

However, Iowa State can claim something that Tech can’t.  The Cyclones have at least played for the Big 12 title.  In 2020, they fell to Oklahoma 27-21 in Arlington, Texas as they fell just short of ending over a century’s worth of disappointment.

Tech, on the other hand, has never appeared in the Big 12 Championship game.  In 2002, Kliff Kingsbury had a chance to QB his team to the conference title game by winning the regular-season finale at Oklahoma but the Red Raiders were destroyed 60-15 by the No. 4 Sooners resulting in a third-place finish in the Big 12 South.

2005 saw Tech finish second in the South division with a 6-2 record.  Unfortunately, that year saw Texas go 8-0 in league games to win the South on their way eventually winning the National Championship.

Even the best Red Raider team of the Mike Leach era, the 2008 squad, couldn’t get to the Big 12 title game.  That year, Tech, Texas, and Oklahoma finished in a three-way tie in the South meaning that the BCS rankings determined the team that would represent the South in the title game, an opportunity that went to the Sooners.

Since then, Tech hasn’t come close to playing for the conference crown.  Since the conference reinstated the title game in 2017 after a six-year hiatus, the Red Raiders’ best finish in the league was last season’s fourth-place finish.

This year, Tech hopes to finally get a shot at winning an elusive conference title.  That’s a dream that is entirely attainable, even if most people are off of the Red Raider bandwagon.  So let’s look at some reasons to believe that Tech could still make a run in the Big 12 this year even after a disappointing non-conference showing.

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Still, that side of the ball is this team’s best.  So if the old cliche about defense winning championships is true, Tech could make a run in the Big 12.

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Sure, the only two FBS teams Tech has faced have topped the 30-point mark.  That’s why the defense might not appear very solid at first glance.

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However, keep in mind that Wyoming scored only 20 points in regulation against Tech and Oregon scored only 31 offensive points in Lubbock.  What’s more, Joey McGuire’s failed 4th-down gamble deep in his team’s own territory against the Ducks led directly to three more points.  Thus, in reality, Oregon scored only 28 true points on the Tech defense.

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Through three games, Tech has given up just 18 points per game in regulation.  That’s a very respectable showing by DC Tim DeRuyter’s side of the ball.

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What’s more, on Monday, McGuire gave us the good news that the defense is getting healthier.  DE Joseph Adedire and safety Tyler Owens, two key players for the Red Raiders, will return to action this week after sitting out the Tarleton game with injuries.

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Also, in a few more weeks, starting middle LB, Jacob Rodriguez will return from a sprained foot.  That means that the defense could be back to full strength by the time the pivotal KSU game rolls around.

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The unfortunate reality may be that Tech’s offense may not ever be elite this year.  The QB position is a question mark and the offense lacks weapons with explosiveness.  Also, the offensive line is a work in progress at best.

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So the defense might have to carry the Red Raiders through the Big 12 schedule.  Thankfully, that’s something that it might be capable of doing.

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Texas Tech’s head coach Joey McGuire high-fives Texas Tech’s offensive lineman Ty Buchanan (79) and Texas Tech’s offensive lineman Landon Peterson (72) during the non-conference football game against Tarleton State, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.

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Joey McGuire will get the most out of Texas Tech

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There’s no way to deny that Joey McGuire is far from a proven commodity as a college head coach.  That’s why some outside of the Red Raider fan base might still be waiting to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially after a 1-2 start to the year.

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Still, Texas Tech football fans believe that McGuire has an innate ability to get the best out of his team.  That’s another reason to think that Tech could be a surprise in the Big 12.

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Last season, Tech was out-played from an effort standpoint in only one game, the 45-17 loss to Baylor in Lubbock.  Outside of that, McGuire got the most out of his roster on a weekly basis.

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While that didn’t lead to a win each week, it did mean that Tech was able to hold second-half leads at Oklahoma State and TCU, two teams that were ranked 7th nationally when they faced the Red Raiders.  That was also the reason why Tech beat Texas, Oklahoma, and Ole Miss, three teams that were considered more talented than McGuire’s.

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McGuire is a master motivator.  He gets his players to buy in and that’s something that his predecessors weren’t able to do.

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Neither Matt Wells nor Kliff Kingsbury were able to get their rosters to live up to their full potential.  In fact, each seemed to have a knack for draining the fight out of his team, especially as the season wore on.

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McGuire is so much more effervescent than either Kingsbury or Wells and that seems to rub off on his team.  Last year, the Red Raiders played their tails off week in and week out and that led to some unexpected wins.  If McGuire can continue to instill that culture in his team this season, Tech could fight its way to a Big 12 title game appearance.

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