Texas Tech recently completed its season with five wins and seven losses. On the face of it, there's nothing remarkable about a 5-7 season. Every year dozens of FBS teams finish with worse records than that. Heck, a few don't even win a single game. So why should any self-respecting Red Raider fan be more than notionally concerned about the future?
Well el Diablo, as they say, is in the details. And chief among those details is the nature of many of the losses and when they occurred.
Had the Red Raiders lost a series of nail-biters early in the season and finished with a rousing five-game winning streak, we might have reason to feel encouraged. In such a scenario, we could easily rationalize the early losses by referring to bad luck or individual plays that went wrong. And by virtue of the winning streak, the team would be buoyed by momentum and confidence going into the offseason. It could point to a poor first half of the season as a relic of the past, and the great second half as a harbinger of the future.
Unfortunately, the reality is diametrically opposite the above scenario.
The Red Raiders lost seven of their final eight games and five straight to conclude the season. The combined margin of defeat for the final five games was 154 points, the largest combined margin of defeat for any five-game losing slide in Texas Tech football history. This 154-point blowout quotient is 53 points (over 10 points per game) worse than then next most dreadful streak.
In their evil 66-6 loss to Oklahoma State, the Red Raiders suffered their largest margin of defeat in school history and gave up the most points in school history. And they reprised the 66 points allowed in the final game of the season against Baylor.
The losing streak thus sends the Red Raiders into the offseason wondering whether they are can compete in the Big 12. The players are almost certainly harboring doubts about the ability of the coaching staff.
The incredibly large margin of the defeats, moreover, suggests there is something essentially and fundamentally very wrong with this team. Tech's talent/experience quotient on the defensive side leaves very much to be desired, but cannot account for the extreme severity of the losses, the almost total inability to compete. The Red Raiders have some very bad intangibles working against them deep within the core of the team.
Now to a certain extent, Tech's misery was a function of bad luck. For instance, all teams experience injuries during the course of a season, but the Red Raiders took breaks and tears to an entirely different level. By the end of the season they looked like a battalion that had fought at the Somme or Antietam. Injuries, however, are a woefully insufficient explanation for Tech's failings on defense.
To wit, FBC program Texas State gutted the Red Raider defense for 256 yards and 5.1 yards per carry in Lubbock in the season-opener. Soon thereafter, Nevada hacked Tech's defense to pieces, gaining 312 yards on the ground and averaging 6.8 yards per tote. The 6.8 yards per carry was Nevada's second best performance in that category on the season. Only New Mexico State fared worse against the Wolfpack ground game. UNLV did better. So did San Jose State, Hawaii and the University of New Mexico.
The kicker here is that these awful showings against the running game came early in the season, before the plague of injuries arrived in earnest. Bottom line, Tech's defense was a wreck even when it was reasonably healthy. We thus cannot count on a full return to health as a remedy for what ails this group.
The final layer of gloom with which to cap of the dolorous tale of Tech football in 2011 concerns Tommy Tuberville's record at Tech and the trajectory of the program.
Now it is hardly unusual for a new coach to suffer a bad season soon after taking the helm of a program. There is, after all, typically an adjustment period. The problem with Tech is that Tuberville's bad season came not in season one when you'd expect it, but in season two, which should have been one of progress.
By way of comparison, take for instance, Mike Leach, who took over a team that had gone 6-5 in Spike Dykes' final season. Leach's worst season as Tech's coach was his inaugural campaign in which he went 7-6. From that point on his tenure was typified by gradual but clear progress in the won/loss column.
Or take Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy. He took over a 7-5 Les Miles team and went 4-7 in his first season in Stillwater. But that was his only losing season. In year two he went 7-6 and now has the Cowboys in the thick of the national championship chase.
The key point of Leach and Gundy's records is that they never regressed, only progressed. Tuberville's Red Raiders, as expected, went 8-5 in year one, but fell dramatically short of expectations in year two, going 5-7, losing in grisly fashion, and concluding with a five-game losing streak. There was not only regression, but regression far more profound than the won/loss record would indicate.
In short, there's precious little one can say in defense of Tuberville's second season in Lubbock, and there's a great big pile of bad juju working against his program going into season three. If Tuberville is able to patch up this capsizing ship and steer it to a winning mark in 2012, he will have proved he's anything but past his prime. As of the present, that is the central concern with Texas Tech football.