One of the annual rites of summer is the release of the Big 12 preseason football poll, voted on by members of the media. That milestone that we must always pass to get to the actual playing of games arrived on Thursday and the Texas Tech football team was slotted in a perfect place in the rankings.
Siting at 4th, Tech trailed only Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma respectively. What’s more, the Red Raiders picked up four first-place votes, the same number as the Sooners.
But let’s be honest, this poll is worthless. It’s just a talking point to help generate buzz for the upcoming Big 12 football media sessions as well as a talking point to help writers, bloggers, reporters, and fans have something to chew on until games kick off in two months.
After all, last season’s poll was wildly off-base. Baylor was the preseason pick to win the league but the Bears would end the year in 6th place.
Meanwhile, eventual Big 12 champion Kansas State was picked only 5th while the team that played in the National Championship Game, TCU, was picked just 7th in the conference. As for Tech, the media had Joey McGuire’s team at No. 9 out of 10 teams in the preseason poll a year ago only to see the Red Raiders end up in fourth place.
So why do we care about preseason polls or all-conference teams? Why do we spend any time discussing them in the first place? Why do fans seem to put so much energy into caring about where their school is ranked prior to the actual playing of any game?
It is because these rankings are a sign of respect, and that’s what every college sports fan craves for their school. Seeing our school slotted near the top of the preseason poll somehow makes us not only hopeful about the upcoming season but it also makes us believe that people outside of our specific fan base acknowledge and appreciate where our program is.
On the other hand, having to scroll to the bottom of the list to find your school often brings about a sense of embarrassment while also throwing water on just about any embers of belief that might be burning in our sports hearts. Tech fans know that feeling all too well given how poorly the football program in Lubbock has been thought of over the past decade.
That appears to be changing though as McGuire’s program has picked up the third-most first-place votes in the poll and is slotted ahead of TCU, the program coming off of one of the best seasons a Big 12 team has had in the last 15 years. In other words, people outside of West Texas are now giving McGuire and his team their due after an impressive 8-5 season last fall, one that included wins over Texas, OU, and Ole Miss.
Coming in at No. 4 in this poll is actually a perfect spot for Tech. Sure, everyone involved in the program has higher aspirations than that for the 2023 season. However, this is a program that operates best in the underdog role.
Almost regardless of the sport, Tech has always been a terrible frontrunner. However, when there’s any sort of a chip on the shoulders of the Red Raiders, interesting results usually follow.
For what it’s worth, McGuire seems like a master at capitalizing any sort of slight that might be perceived by his team. Already having shown a propensity for getting his team to play with maximum effort almost every time the ball is teed up, he seems like a coach who would be at his motivational best when he has the disrespect card to play at key moments. This year, when he leads his team up against the Wildcats and the Horns, that’s exactly what he’ll be able to lean on.
On the other hand, Tech is ranked high enough in this poll for people around the nation to take the Red Raiders seriously. Believe it or not, many uninformed and distant college football minds still view McGuire as a glorified high school coach and they expect nothing special from Tech this year given that name-brand star power is not what this roster is built upon.
For example, few people with a national perspective are going to look too closely at Tyler Shough and see a potential All-Conference performer given his modest stats from a season ago and his injury history. In fact, only two Red Raiders, wide receiver Jerand Bradley and defensive tackle Jaylon Hutchings, were named preseason All-Big 12 honorees.
Thus, people around the nation still likely don’t buy into the Red Raiders as potential factors on a national scale. However, when those people see Tech sitting in the top third of the conference preseason poll, they will likely be inclined to at least give McGuire and Co. a second look heading into the season.
That matters because college football is the only major sport in the world where perception is 90% of the formula for winning a title. With only four teams invited into the most exclusive postseason tournament in the world and with ranking driving nearly everything in the sport, how a team is perceived is massive in college football.
Now, sitting at No. 4 in the preseason Big 12 poll, Tech should legitimately expect to be a top-25 team in the first national rankings when they are released in a few weeks. While that’s no guarantee of a successful season, it is a preferred place to start the year, especially for a program that can’t simply make a living off of its reputation.
Since the moment the confetti cannons blasted scarlet and black paper all over the field at NRG Stadium in Houston after last December’s Texas Bowl, there has been serious hype for Tech football in West Texas. It’s a feeling that has not existed among the Red Raider faithful since 2014 when Kliff Kingsbury was headed into his second year after also posting an 8-5 mark in his Texas Tech head coaching debut campaign.
What’s more, Thursday’s poll release also shows that people outside of Raiderland believe that McGuire has put together a squad worth keeping an eye on. That’s a position it is nice to be back in after so many years of irrelevance. However, the perch is not so lofty that it will allow the Red Raiders to look down on everyone in the league. That’s left for the Longhorns to do and we know how that usually turns out for them.