This week, the College Football Hall of Fame ballots went out to voters, and included among the candidates is Texas Tech football legend, Graham Harrell. Whether or not the record-setting former Red Raider quarterback who is now the offensive coordinator at Purdue gets the nod this year, there is no denying that his NCAA career warrants Hall of Fame induction.
The ballot annually includes approximately 80 former players making the selection process rather tough but few names on the ballot can boast the type of career accomplishments that Harrell can.
Also nominated in 2022, Harrell is the most accomplished and winningest passer to ever play for the Red Raiders. Of course, he played a starring role in helping transform the game of football at all levels by starring as the most successful QB in the storied career of former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach, whose wide-open offensive gameplan was considered a gimmick until Harrell and his top wide receiver target, Michael Crabtree (who was announced as a HOF member in January of last year) helped lead their team to as high as No. 2 in the national polls late in the 2008 season, meaning Harrell’s influence on the game can’t be denied.
A 4-star recruit when he signed with Tech out of Ennis, Texas, Harrell was the most highly-touted player to sign with the program during the Leach era. He was the 2004 Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Texas and the No. 15 overall recruit in the state.
After redshirting in 2004, he saw only spot duty as the backup to senior Cody Hodges in 2005. However, the next season he was elevated to the role of starter making him the only redshirt freshman under Leach to be named starter in Lubbock.
In his first year at the helm of the offense, he threw for 4,555 yards with 38 TDs and 11 INTs. He capped that season by authoring what was at that time the greatest comeback in NCAA football history by bringing Tech back from a 38-7 deficit in the middle of the third quarter to claim a 44-41 overtime thriller that garnered nationwide attention for the feisty young QB.
As a junior, he had one of the best seasons of any college QB in history. Throwing for 5,708 yards and 48 TDs while completing 71.8% of the 512 passes he threw, he helped lead what was the youngest team in the Power 5 level of the game that year to a 9-4 season and a top-25 ranking to end the year.
Of course, his effectiveness was greatly increased by the presence of Crabtree, a redshirt freshman who caught 134 passes for 1,962 yards and 22 scores in his first college campaign. Together, that duo set the tone for what would be an unforgettable 2008 season.
With opposing defenses keying on the Harrell-to-Crabtree connection, an improved ground game, and Tech fielding the best defense of the Leach era in 2008, Harrell’s overall numbers went down just a tick as he threw for 5,111 yards, 45 Tds, and only 9 picks. Of course, included in that season was the iconic TD pass to Crabtree to knock off No. 1 Texas in Lubbock with just one second left on the clock.
That play alone is one of the most memorable in the history of college football and it remains the first highlight people think of when Graham Harrell is mentioned. However, he provided plenty of other unforgettable plays such as the TD pass to Robert Johnson in the final minute of the 2007 win over Texas A&M. He also led Tech to a thrilling 14-point 4th-quarter comeback against Virginia in the 2008 Gator Bowl to put a bow on his junior season.
By the time Harrell graduated, he owned the NCAA record for career TD passes (134) and career touchdowns (147) and to this day, he still holds 8 NCAA records. However, his impact goes far beyond just what he did statistically.
Taking the Red Raiders to No. 2 in the national polls in mid-November of 2008, he helped prove to the nation that Leach’s “Air Raid” offense was not just some fluky scheme. Rather, he showed that the pass-happy system could take a team to the top of the sport.
As a result, programs across the nation and eventually, even NFL teams, began either fully implementing the “Air Raid” or incorporating principles of it into their passing attacks. Now, the influence of what Harrell, Crabtree, and Leach were able to accomplish has infiltrated every level of the game from youth football to the NFL.
Crabtree is already in the Hall of Fame and in three years, it will be fascinating to see if Leach is put on the ballot despite not having a career winning percentage of .600 that is typically required of coaches for nomination in the college Hall of Fame. If there is any common sense in this process, the recently-departed Pirate will be a Hall of Fame member at some point as well given how his fingerprints are all over the game in the modern age.
Harrell also belongs in that elite group. While Pat Mahomes is the poster boy for Texas Tech football these days, no QB in Tech history has ever accomplished what Harrell did for the Red Raiders and few in the history of the NCAA have done more in terms of the game’s evolution. That’s why Harrell deserves to be enshrined in Atlanta.