Bowl hopes at stake for both teams

Raiders need one win for bowl eligibility, but OSU has hopes, too.

By BRIAN DAVIS / The Dallas Morning News

LUBBOCK – Some Texas Tech fans may disagree, but Saturday's game against Oklahoma State could be considered one of the biggest in coach Mike Leach's tenure.

Neither team is ranked. No championship is at stake. The game has zero BCS impact.

But the Red Raiders (6-4, 3-2 Big 12) need to win just one more game to become bowl eligible for a 10th straight season. With games against No. 4 Texas and No. 1 Oklahoma remaining, a Tech loss against OSU would put the school's 2002 bowl hopes in serious jeopardy and signal a possible step back under Leach, now in his third year.

It's an important game for the Cowboys (4-4, 2-2) but not as critical. Oklahoma State still has winnable games against Kansas (2-8) and Baylor (3-6) remaining.

Tech, unlike OSU, needs seven wins to attain bowl eligibility, not six. All teams that played in an August preseason game, giving them a 13-game schedule, must win seven to be bowl eligible. Tech played in the Pigskin Classic in August against Ohio State and lost, 45-21.

"This game has huge implications for both teams when you look at the bowl picture," Tech athletic director Gerald Myers said. "We've certainly got to face three outstanding football teams in our last three games."

Tech has won six of the last seven meetings between the two schools. OSU won in 1999, 41-21. The Red Raiders are currently favored this week by more than a touchdown.

Leach nonchalantly dismisses the importance of Saturday's game. At least, he does publicly. "I just think this is the next game, and we could become bowl eligible," he said.

Oklahoma State coach Les Miles understands the importance of getting a road victory, one that could perhaps solidify his team's bowl resume. OSU's two big victories this season (Nebraska and Texas A&M) have come at home.

"You count four wins, but until you can count six, you're grinding your teeth a little bit," Miles said. "We're going to go to Lubbock and see if we can count to five real quick."

It's still too early to tell for sure, but this game could affect how these teams finish on the Big 12 bowl pecking order. The league has eight bowl tie-ins, and five teams are currently bowl eligible.

Tech and Oklahoma State have realistic designs on bowls toward the bottom of the list – Alamo, Independence, Houston, Tangerine and Humanitarian Bowls. Any team with a 6-6 record could choose to pass on the Humanitarian Bowl, though.

Oklahoma State isn't going to pass on any bowl whatsoever. The Cowboys have not gone bowling since 1997.

Tech may not contend for the Big 12 South division title. But at least Red Raiders fans can count on going to a bowl every year, no matter who coaches the team. Winning one is a whole different story as Tech's 5-18-1 bowl record indicates.

Tech would probably push to get in either the Independence or Houston Bowls, assuming the Red Raiders win that magical seventh game. The Independence Bowl, played in Shreveport, La., is within easy driving distance for Tech's Dallas fan base. The Houston Bowl is played in state.

Tech would probably have to beat OSU and either Texas or Oklahoma to have a shot at the Alamo. Even still, the Alamo Bowl would probably not pick Tech two consecutive seasons.

Special contributor Charlie Smith, based in Stillwater, Okla., contributed to this report.

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