A Lot Riding On Tech-A&M Game

Ironic, isn't it? You would think diehard fans of any successful football team would be fired by thoughts of glory and filled with anticipation when their team gets the opportunity to play "The Big Game." Why is it, then, that as likely as not, your average Texas Tech Red Raider fan is more consumed with foreboding about the upcoming game against Texas A&M than pangs of impatience? Are Tech football fans, by nature, a gloomy and morose lot?

Are they stricken with some rare collective psychosis that inspires overweening pessimism? Are they irrational?

In a word, no. And let me explain why.

Texas Tech goes into Saturday's contest with A&M ranked number 25 in the country. It is late in the football season, and much rides on the outcome of this game. If Tech beats the Aggies and then does the same with Oklahoma State the following week in Lubbock, the Raiders will finish the regular season 8-3, ranked in the Top Twenty, and will almost certainly receive an invitation to the Cotton Bowl for only the third time in school history.

If the Red Raiders can pull this off, it will constitute a major step forward for the Tech program, and in a season that most considered to be a rebuilding one, no less. In short, it would set the Red Raiders up in absolutely excellent position to propel themselves into the elite sphere of college football programs in 2005.

Tech will be returning many key components of its offense (not the least, head coach Mike Leach) next season, as well as virtually its entire defense and its key special teams performers as well. The Raiders will also be playing a schedule that looks therapeutically soft in comparison to most that Tech has played over the last twenty years. Moreover, several of the key teams in the Big XII South Division look to be a bit weaker next season, which, theoretically, would make Tech's task easier. So, if, if, IF, the Red Raiders can set the stage for next season by beating the Aggies and Cowboys, 2005 could very well be the year about which Tech fans have been dreaming for over a quarter of a century. And that is why the battle in College Station is such a huge game.

And that is why so many Tech fans are so nervous. For, you see, recent history has been anything but kind to the Red Raiders in the week following their appearance in the Associated Press Top 25. In 1989 Tech (5-2) had entered the poll at number 18, and were well-positioned to make their first trip to the Cotton Bowl since the 1938 season. The Raiders fell the following week, 40-24 to the 13th-ranked Houston Cougars.

In 1995 Tech (5-2) was similarly positioned to make a run at the brass ring after debuting in the AP poll at number 23. The Texas Longhorns saw to it that the dream would be nothing more than a mirage, however, destroying the Red Raiders 48-7.

In 1998, Tech started the season like a raging hurricane, reeling off six straight wins, entering the AP poll in the 23 spot, and filling Red Raider fans with hopes of a season for the history books. That was before the Colorado Buffalos sent Tech to a 19-17 loss and into a sideways spin from which it never really emerged.

In 2002, the Red Raiders were 8-4, ranked number 23, and were poised to win the Big XII South for the first time. All they had to do was beat the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman on national television. Final score: Oklahoma 60, Texas Tech 15.

And finally, the Raiders were again ranked 23rd in 2003 with a 5-2 record and filled with visions of grandeur. All that changed in Stillwater, Oklahoma as the Oklahoma State Cowboys jumped out to a massive lead and then held off a furious Red Raider charge to win by a score of 51-49.

This is the migration of misery well known to Tech football fans and it well explains the reluctance of many to go back into the breach once more. But there is a bright side to this sad tale, and a reason for some good hope. Hence, the past holds little power over the present. The members of the 2004 football team were learning their multiplication tables and munching pizza squares in the grade school cafeteria when the Cougars punctured Tech's bubble in 1989. And it is safe to say that none of them have given a moment's thought to last year's loss to Oklahoma State as they prepare for Texas A&M this week. The Tech football players inhabit the universe of the Red Raider football team, not the one of Tech football fans with their morbid fixation on a sorrowful history.

Furthermore, let it be noted, there have been programs with far more wretched histories than Tech who managed, nevertheless, to turn things around and produce the proverbial breakthrough season. Not so long ago Kansas State would have killed to have a past like Tech's, so lowly and devoid of tradition was its program. But even still, they arose from the ashes and cinders to produce one of the better college football programs of the 1990s. Northwestern football was burdened by historical chains that made Tech's look like gossamer until Gary Barnett happened along, shattered the shackles, and took the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl.

Miracles far more unlikely than any Tech will require to beat Texas A&M have occurred in college football. If the Red Raider coaches and players are good enough, they will beat the Aggies and they will beat the Cowboys after that. Then we will celebrate. And that is all you really need to know.

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