With the Texas Tech football season less than two weeks away, the excitement for Joey McGuire’s second season in charge is at a fevered pitch. In fact, over the last two decades, it has been rare for the Red Raiders to have the type of preseason hype that the 2023 team is enjoying.
Now, to be fair, the buzz is far greater among Texas Tech football fans than it is with those outside of the fandom. After all, it is easy to understand why those who aren’t emotionally invested in the Red Raiders are looking at this year’s team with a bit of skepticism.
Any time a program goes through the type of futility that Tech has over the last decade, earning the benefit of the doubt on a national scale is an uphill climb. The fact that Tech was left out of the preseason AP Poll is a perfect reminder of the fact that not everyone around the nation is buying into the Red Raiders. Regardless, there is a level of expectation surrounding this program that has not been seen in some time.
Previous seasons when the Texas Tech football program entered a season with significant expectations
Prior to this year, the last time the fan base was as excited about Texas Tech football was in 2014. Let’s hope that 2023 doesn’t follow that script though.
Nine years ago it was the second season of the Kliff Kingsbury era in Lubbock. Coming off of an 8-5 season that included a bowl game victory over a top-15 Arizona State team and with sophomore QB Davis Webb returning after a strong finish to his freshman season, there was so much enthusiasm about Tech football that the program set a record for season ticket sales.
Unfortunately, that season quickly went off the rails. Webb didn’t take the type of step forward that most expected, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt resigned just three games into the year, and by the end of the 4-8 campaign, a true freshman named Patrick Mahomes II would be thrust into the starting QB job. That season began a run that saw the program experience six losing seasons in the span of seven years and many of the ills that would plague the Red Raiders in those subsequent seasons could be directly traced back to 2014.
Five years prior, the 2009 season also brought massive expectations to the South Plains. In what would be Mike Leach’s final go-round as head coach in Lubbock, Tech wouldn’t begin the year ranked but given the wildly successful 2008 season, Red Raider football was the most popular game in West Texas, and the nation was tuned in to see what Leach could do for an encore.
Unfortunately, a 2-2 start (which included tough road losses at Texas and Houston) would douse those embers rather quickly. Though the team would finish the year 9-4, that season would also fail to satisfy given the massive bar that had been set the previous fall.
The 2008 campaign remains the most anticipated and hyped in program history. Returning virtually every significant contributor from a team that went 9-4 and finished at No. 22 in the polls, Tech opened 2008 ranked 12th in the country.
With the star power of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree bringing attention to what Leach had built through his unorthodox methods, Tech captured the attention of the nation and rose to as high as No. 2 in the national polls after beating No. 1 Texas in Lubbock and then following that up with a dominating win over No. 8 Oklahoma State at home a week later.
Of course, losses to Oklahoma and Ole Miss down the stretch would cause that season to end with a bit of a whimper, that magical run remains one of the most unforgettable seasons in the history of the program and it is hard to argue that the preseason hype wasn’t justified despite the disappointing way it ended.
Many people forget, though, that the 2005 season also carried with it some weighty expectations. Opening at No. 21, Tech would start the season with four cupcake games including glorified scrimmages against Florida International, Sam Houston, and Indiana State and after a 6-0 start, the team would sit at No. 10 heading into a showdown with No. 2 and eventual national champion Texas.
That afternoon did not go well for Tech in a 52-17 drubbing dropping the Red Raiders to No. 17. Ultimately a 9-3 finish would see Leach’s squad end the year at No. 19 in the rankings.
Is the 2023 hype for the Texas Tech football team justified?
Will 2023 prove to be more like 2008 or like 2014? At first glance, it appears that this season has more similarities to 2008, which should excite fans across Raiderland.
Again, Tech returns the vast majority of a roster that surpassed expectations and won a bowl game in impressive fashion the season prior. Most importantly, just as in 2008, Tech will feature a senior starting QB who has been around the college football block more than once and who has full command of the locker room.
However, this year’s team isn’t getting quite the love that the 2008 team did. McGuire isn’t nearly as revered at this point in his young NCAA head coaching career as Leach was in 2008, which was his ninth season on the job in Lubbock.
Also, this team doesn’t have the star power of a Crabtree or Harrell. Remember that the 2007 season saw Crabtree win the Biletnikoff Award as a redshirt freshman and both he and Harrell started the next season with Heisman Trophy aspirations.
Still, there are more similarities between the current team and the 2008 version of the Red Raiders. What’s more, the love that McGuire and Co. are experiencing as 2023 approaches is a refreshing break from the typical indifference with which most of the recent Texas Tech football seasons have been met. Now, it is almost time to find out if the preseason hype train will stay on track through the fall or if it will be unceremoniously derailed.