The importance of today’s game for Texas Tech

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When Texas Tech fans hear the words Iowa State, there is a general sense of apathy. Today, as Paul Rhoads leads his team onto the field at Jones Stadium, Red Raider fans won’t bristle at the sight of the Iowa State flag and the student section will give the Cyclones only a courtesy booing.

But regardless of the fan base’s indifference towards today’s opponent, do not underestimate how important today’s game is for Kliff Kingsbury and his Texas Tech football program.

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If Texas Tech is to show improvement from last year’s 4-8 debacle and prove to the rest of the Big 12 that the program is on the rebound, a bowl birth is a must. Thus far, the Red Raiders are half way to the six victories needed to reach that goal. And today is one of the few remaining games in which Texas Tech will be favored.

History shows that Iowa State is capable of biting a team that overlooks them. For reference, remember 2011.

I was one of the 55,000 or so fans that sat in disbelief as the No. 20 ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders were blown out 41-7 by an unranked Iowa State squad just one week after earning a road win against the Oklahoma Sooners. Tech would not win another game that year, failing to earn a bowl birth for the first time in almost two decades.

Prior to that game, I was listening to the local pre-game radio broadcast when one of the hosts proclaimed with extreme confidence that after the game Tech would be bowl eligible once again extending its Big 12 record for consecutive bowl appearances. This attitude permeated throughout Lubbock and obviously into the Texas Tech locker room and by the end of the day, we were all shocked and humbled.

Today is going to be a litmus test for the 2015 Texas Tech football team. Today we will learn if there is an air maturity building within this program.

Coming off of three emotional games and two consecutive gut wrenching losses to bitter rivals, will this team and the fans in the stadium come out flat? Or, will the team treat this game with the importance of a game against Texas, Oklahoma, TCU or Baylor?

This Texas Tech football team is not good enough to simply walk onto the field and expect to win a conference game by putting forth anything but its best effort. To complicate matters, Texas Tech is not healthy today.

Young and inexperienced players will be called upon to play key roles, especially on offense. While this fact could make today’s game dicier, the presence of young exuberance might be just what the Red Raiders need.

With starting receivers Ian Sadler and Dylan Cantrell and starting offensive lineman Justin Murphy out and another starting receiver Devin Lauderdale questionable, a number of young players will have the opportunity to make their mark today.

There should be no reason why receivers Zach Austin, Tony Brown, Jonathan Giles and Cameron Batson among others should play with anything less than full enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, the seniors on this team must be the emotional leaders today. Their Texas Tech career has seven more games during which their legacy will be written.

Defensive ends Pete Robertson and Branden Jackson must play with fire and emotion as if today is the national title game. Running back Deandre Washington has to be a workhorse that pounds away at the Cyclone defense and receiver Jakeem Grant must play with the discipline and precision that was missing from his performance against Baylor.

Today’s game is not a rivalry game but it is just as important. Texas Tech’s season does not necessarily hinge on what happens at Jones Stadium this afternoon but if the program harbors any hope of proving that it is once again a relevant force in the Big 12, this is a game it must win.

Good teams win games they are expected to win. They do not succumb to the highs and lows of a season. That’s what 4-8 teams do.

If Texas Tech is able to come out and play a complete game against the Cyclones, it should win. On paper, Texas Tech is the better team and the contest is at Jones Stadium. A win today puts Tech two victories away from qualifying for a bowl with Kansas up next week.

More importantly, today’s contest will reveal to everyone whether Kliff Kingsbury and his team are on the rise or if the program will remain stagnant in the mire of mediocrity and irrelevance.

I don’t hate Iowa State and I’ve never met a Texas Tech fan that does. We’ve never had post game brawls with them nor do they live anywhere near Texas meaning that once this game is over they become an afterthought for another year.

Chances are that 99% of Texas Tech fans do not work with Iowa State alums and we rarely see Cyclone car emblems on the highways and byways of the Lone Star State. But that should not diminish the importance of winning today.

The pressure is on Texas Tech this afternoon. If Tech drops a second consecutive conference home game and falls to 0-3 in the Big 12, the hill it must climb to reach the post season will grow that much higher. But even more importantly, the path to relevance in world of college football, especially in the minds of potential recruits, will become even more daunting.

Every game on the schedule counts equally in the season win total. Today, Texas Tech must treat Iowa State as if beating them would mean just as much as beating Arkansas did because if they don’t, they might just regret this game more than any other on the schedule.

Next: Tecas Tech vs. Iowa State: Fearless Predictions