The Texas Tech football team began the season squarely in the middle of the spotlight. Folks not just in Texas, not just in Big 12 country, but throughout the entire college football world were very curious about how the Red Raiders would perform under the hotshot new coach with the GQ mug. Because of the buzz surrounding Kliff Kingsbury, Tech was easily one of the hippest, trendiest football programs in the country.
And that was a very good thing. When trying to convince 17-year-old boys to spend the next four years of their life at your school, the worst thing is to be thought square and boring. If that is the case, the more sought after recruits will simply ignore you.
Now the season is almost through, and what a rollercoaster it has been. The buzz surrounding Tech football reached a crescendo when the Red Raiders stood 7-0 and ranked No. 10 in the nation. Alas, when Tech plunged into the meat of their schedule, reality set in, and the team lost four straight games, three in blowout fashion.
Now the buzz is gone. Kingsbury is just another familiar face, the aura surrounding his meteoric rise through the coaching ranks has faded, and his team is one of many middling outfits apparently destined to play in some forgettable bowl game against an average opponent.
But the season is not quite over yet. The Red Raiders have one more conference game left, and as luck or fate would have it, the game affords Tech the opportunity to redeem itself and to recoup a healthy portion of the buzz that surrounded the program back in September and October.
The game, of course, is against the Texas Longhorns in Austin on Thanksgiving Day.
Now the Longhorns are having a season that is not a whole lot better than Tech's. They are 7-3, unranked, and are coming off a 38-13 home blowout loss to Oklahoma State. It has been a rather disappointing year for the Horns, and rumors continue to circulate about Mack Brown's imminent ouster.
Nevertheless, the Longhorns are still the Longhorns. Even when they're down a bit, the University of Texas remains one of the nation's true glamour programs along with the likes of Oklahoma, Alabama, USC, Michigan and Ohio State. And beating the Longhorns, regardless of the circumstances, puts you on the map. It gets people's attention. Do it in Austin, on Thanksgiving, on national TV, and the publicity bump is even greater.
But the fact of an upset over a big-name opponent isn't the only reason the win would generate a buzz. Another factor would be that the Red Raiders actually exceeded expectations.
Most folks, including yours truly, viewed Tech as a 7-5 team to start the season. A win over Texas would stand the Red Raiders at a very nice 8-4, a respectable 5-4 in Big 12 play, and it would send them to a legitimate bowl rather than a garbage game. A strong victory in the bowl, moreover, could boost Tech back into the top 25 at season's end. In other words, much of value still hangs in the balance for these Red Raiders.
Texas Tech hasn't beaten Texas in Austin since 1997. And rarely has Tech needed to more than they do now. For the short term at least, the image of the program depends on it.
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