Though most fans absolutely hate it, the practice of FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams playing opponents from the lower FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) classification isn’t going away anytime soon. The money that the FCS teams make from these games practically subsidizes their entire athletic department for the year making such games a must-have for teams from the lower level. This year, the Texas Tech football team will host FCS member Murray State in the season opener but hopefully, this game is not nearly as stressful as the last two games that Tech played against FCS teams.
The last time that Tech didn’t play an FCS opponent was the 2004 season. That was the year that Sonny Cumbie led the Red Raiders to a Holiday Bowl victory over Aaron Rogers and the Cal Bears.
Since then, facing off with a team from the lower level of the sport has been an annual tradition. For the most part, it’s one that has caused little trouble for the Red Raiders. In 13 of the last 17 seasons, Tech has beaten its annual FCS opponent by at least 20 points. What’s more, the program has never lost to an FCS opponent.
However, in each of the last two seasons, an FCS team has taken Tech to the wire. That’s something that we hope doesn’t happen this Saturday.
In 2020, Tech opened the COVID-19 delayed season by hosting Houston Baptist. Despite having a number of players miss the game due to the coronavirus, Tech was still an overwhelming favorite to beat a program that had only been playing football for seven seasons.
That night, Tech would jump out to a 21-3 lead thanks to a TD pass from Alan Bowman to Erik Ezukanma and TD runs from SaRodorick Thompson and Tahj Brooks. Though the Red Raiders would never relinquish the lead, a strange decision by then head coach Matt Wells would leave the door open for the Huskies late in the game.
With his team leading 35-27 near the end of the 4th quarter, Wells would call for Tech to attempt a fourth-and-one conversion at the HBU four-yard line instead of kicking a short field goal to make it a two-score game. Bowman’s QB sneak was snuffed out and the ball would go back to the Huskies who would then take only seven plays to cover 96 yards and find the endzone.
However, HBU’s two-point attempt to tie the game was unsuccessful as QB Bailey Zappe could not connect with his receiver. Tech would escape with the win, 35-33 but there were troubling signs from that game that left Red Raider fans worried about the upcoming season.
HBU would throw for 572 yards and four TDs while three of their receivers would catch at least 100 yards worth of passes. In fact, they even had a 200-yard receiver, Josh Sterns, who went for 209 yards and a pair of scores.
Meanwhile, Tech QB Alan Bowman would finish the game with a QB rating of just 56.4. Playing for the first time since breaking his collar bone in the third game of the 2019 season, he looked rusty and tentative in his return to the field, traits that he would continue to exhibit throughout the 2020 season leading to his eventual benching mid-season.
Last season, it was Tyler Shough who was less than impressive against an FCS opponent. Completing just 12 of 22 passes for 174 yards and one TD, he was picked off twice as Tech would escape with a 28-22 win over Stephen F. Austin.
Shough would connect with Ezukanma on a 75-yard TD strike on Tech’s first drive but would then only throw for 99 yards the remainder of the game. Were it not for 190 rushing yards, 103 by Tahj Brooks, Tech would have been in huge trouble.
As it were, the Lumberjacks gave Tech all they could handle. In fact, SFA led 13-7 at halftime and trailed just 21-19 early in the 4th quarter.
The point is that the Red Raiders can’t afford to take any FCS opponent lightly and that includes Murray State this weekend. Though the Red Raiders have little to gain in this contest, they have tons to lose.
After playing Murray State, Tech will then host No. 24 Houston, travel to No. 13 NC State, host Texas, and travel to Kansas State and No. 12 Oklahoma State. That’s a brutal stretch to open the season meaning that securing a win over the Racers of Murray State is a must.
However, Tech fans don’t want to see another nail-biter against an FCS opponent. Rather, the Joey McGuire era needs to begin with an impressive show of force against what should be an overmatched foe. Still, the last two years have taught us that nothing can be taken for granted in college football, not even a game against a team that is primarily showing up just to get paid for being there.