Texas Tech football: Houston game is most important of Kingsbury’s career

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders on the field before the game against the Baylor Bears on November 25, 2016 at AT
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders on the field before the game against the Baylor Bears on November 25, 2016 at AT /

With the future of the Texas Tech football program in doubt, this week’s showdown with Houston is the most important game in the career of Kliff Kingsbury.

Saturday could be the day that defines the career of Kliff Kingsbury, at least as it pertains to his tenure as head coach at his alma mater.  After a 1-1 start and facing a daunting three-game stretch to open Big 12 play, the Texas Tech football program finds itself at a crossroads as the Houston Cougars come to town.

If athletic director Kirby Hocutt is to be believed when he says that he expects to see progress from Kingsbury this year, then it is fair to assume that a losing season will likely spell the end of the current regime.  And after six years, there would be ample evidence to support such a move.

No one can accuse Hocutt of not giving Kingsbury time to grow as a coach and figure out how to turn the Texas Tech football program into a Big 12 contender.  Through all of Kingsbury’s growing pains as a first-time head coach, he has had the unwavering support of his AD, even when that support has defied popular opinion.

But consider what Kingsbury will have to accomplish if his team can’t figure out a way to knock off Houston this week.  A loss would put the Red Raiders at just 1-2 headed into Big 12 play.

That would mean Kingsbury would have to go 5-4 in conference play just to reach bowl eligibility.  Considering that the Red Raiders have averaged just 3.2 Big 12 wins per year in Kingsbury’s first five seasons, imagining any scenario in which the Red Raiders manage to find five conference wins  might be a bit too much for even the most optimistic of fans.

In fact, the five-win plateau is something that Tech has not reached in league play since 2009, the final year of Mike Leach’s run on the South Plains.  In the eight seasons since, Tech has struggled to even win four Big 12 games, accomplishing that meager feat only three times (2012 under Tommy Tuberville and in 2013 and 2015 with Kingsbury).

Another factor that puts an even greater importance on this week’s game is the three-game Big 12 gauntlet awaiting the Red Raiders following the Houston game.  Next week, the Red Raiders open conference play with a night game against Oklahoma State, which Tech has not beaten since 2008.  What’s more, Tech currently sports a 7-game losing streak in Stillwater where it has not won since 2001.

The following week, the Red Raiders host West Virginia, currently the No. 14 team in the nation.  And facing the Mountaineers in Lubbock has not been an advantage for Tech as it has lost the last two matchups with WVU at Jones Stadium.  And since winning in Morgantown in 2013, Kingsbury has lost his last four matchups with his mentor and former roommate Dana Holgorsen.

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The schedule does not let up in the third game of Big 12 play.  After a week off, Tech must travel to Ft. Worth on a Thursday night to face TCU, currently ranked No. 15 in the top-25.

The Frogs once again boast one of the stingiest defenses in the Big 12 which is bad news for a Texas Tech team still trying to figure out its quarterback situation.  Last year in Lubbock, Gary Patterson’s Frogs held the Kliff Kingsbury “Air Raid” offense to 3 points and that was with Tech starting a senior at QB in Nic Shimonek

Texas Tech fans like to point out that the Red Raiders were victorious in their last trip to Ft. Worth.  But that win came with Pat Mahomes at QB and still required double over-time for Tech to knock off a TCU team that would finish the season just 6-7.

Barring some unforeseen developments, the Red Raiders will be substantial underdogs in each of their first three Big 12 games of 2018.  With its next three opponents being schools against which Kingsbury has a combined record of just 3-12, it is hard to imagine the Red Raiders reaching the half-way point of the season with a 3-3 record should they fall to Houston on Saturday.

A dismal mark of 1-5 seems far more likely and that would spell certain doom for the 2018 season and the Kliff Kingsbury tenure.   A loss at Houston will just pour gasoline on the fire of fan discord that has been burning since the week-one loss to Ole Miss.  What’s more, it could be a damning blow to a program that has not proven to be particularly resilient in Kingsbury’s 5-plus seasons.

On the other hand, a win this week would instill in this young team the type of confidence needed to pull off an upset or two in the next three weeks.  Heading into Stillwater feeling confident in true freshman Alan Bowman as the quarterback and having found answers to some of the questions that have been swirling around the program since the first quarter of the season’s first game is the only chance the Red Raiders have at putting together a representative Big 12 run.

There is no way to overstate the importance of beating Houston this week.  Kingsbury desperately needs a win to give his team some margin for error in conference play.

What’s more, this program needs to give the home fans a win to leave Jones Stadium feeling good about.  Tech has lost its last four home games to FBS teams dating back to last September’s win over Arizona State.

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The home attendance has plummeted over the past calendar year as fan apathy and frustration has caused Jones Stadium to lose its reputation as one of the toughest places to play in the Big 12.  But Texas Tech can begin to restore some of the Jones Stadium magic this weekend by knocking off Houston and if it does, that will do wonders for every aspect of the program, especially the head coach.