The bye week is over and now, Texas Tech football fans are turning our attention to the second half of the 2022 season. It’s a slate of six games that are all winnable but all losable as well. How the Red Raiders fare in these contests will define the first year of the Joey McGuire era and, if all goes well, set up this program to take important steps forward in 2023 and beyond.
The first six games of the year were always thought to be the toughest half of the slate for Tech. That bore out as five of the opponents Tech faced (all five FBS programs on the first side of the schedule) were ranked in the top 25 at the time they squared off with McGuire’s team.
Thus, going 3-3 as Tech has done is nothing to look down on. In fact, that record gives this year’s team a legitimate shot at finishing the season with a strong showing.
However, in order to surpass external expectations and have a seven-win or higher season, Tech has to take care of business at home over the next two weeks. With West Virginia and Baylor set to visit Jones AT&T Stadium in the next two games, we will know quite a bit more about how this season is going to shake out by the time the calendar flips to November.
In a year in which the Big 12 is truly a free for all, it should come as no shock that both of these games are going to essentially be considered toss-ups. Therefore, it’s great to have both at home where Tech is undefeated this season.
Still, don’t overlook the Mountaineers. Essentially written off early in the season after close losses to rival Pitt and Kansas, Neal Brown’s team has rebounded to win three of its last four games.
What’s more, WVU should come to Lubbock riding as high as they have all season after scoring their best win of 2022 this past Saturday. Taking down Baylor 43-40 in a classic Morgantown shootout, the Mountaineers put up 500 yards of total offense, including 217 on the ground. Thus, it is fair to suggest that Brown’s team has found its offensive rhythm.
However, the Mountaineer defense has not played well in each of the past two games. Giving up 590 total yards to a Baylor team that was without its starting QB for much of the game just one week after letting Texas’ backup QB, Hudson Card, pass for over 300 yards, suddenly the side of the ball that was thought to be WVU’s strength is now a huge question mark.
As for the Bears, the preseason Big 12 favorites have not lived up to the hype thus far as they also sit at 3-3 on the year. Granted, two of those losses came to then No. 21 BYU (on the road) and then No. 9 Oklahoma State (in Waco), two teams that are highly respected.
Still, something just isn’t clicking for the Bears. Over the past two games, they have surrendered 39.5 points per game, something that must drive their defensive-minded head coach, Dave Aranda, crazy.
What’s more, the Bears are facing the possibility of life without their starting QB, Blake Shapen, at least in the short term. The sophomore had to leave last Thursday’s game against West Virginia after sustaining a concussion on a late hit after he had slid to the ground. His status for this week’s game against Kansas is unknown at this time.
Still, Baylor will present a stiff challenge to Tech on October 29, especially given the likelihood that Tech will be starting either redshirt freshman Behren Morton or the just back from a collarbone injury Tyler Shough. Either way, facing a defensive guru such as Aranda will be a challenge for whichever player gets the call for McGuire and Co.
What’s also got Tech fans feeling a bit uneasy about these two games is that the program has not won consecutive Big 12 games since beating Kansas and TCU in back-to-back weeks back in October of 2018. Thus the likelihood of a two-game sweep here seems rather ambitious.
However, that’s what Tech needs. Win each of the next two games at home and the Red Raiders will need just one win in their final four games to qualify for a bowl game which is the minimum line for success this season.
Yet, if Tech can take down both the Mountaineers and the Bears, expectations for much more than six wins will be born. In fact, some may even start to dream about eight wins, something Tech hasn’t done in the regular season since 2009.
On the other hand, drop both of these two games and the season begins to turn south in a hurry. That would mean that Tech would have to go 3-1 in November just to get to six wins. Such a scenario would put any hopes of a surprisingly successful season on ice and leave Tech scrambling just to make it to a low-level bowl sponsored by a power tool company.
The absolute minimum for Tech has to be a 1-1 record over the next two games. That would still leave the team in position for a bowl game and for a potentially strong finish to the year.
McGuire and his team have higher aspirations than that though. And if they can get the next two home games, then perhaps they might just wind up being one of the true surprise teams of the Big 12 in 2022.