Texas Tech football: What constitutes a successful 2023 season for Red Raiders?

Nov 26, 2022; Lubbock, Texas, USA; A general view of a Texas Tech Red Raiders helmet during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2022; Lubbock, Texas, USA; A general view of a Texas Tech Red Raiders helmet during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

It is just over a week until the 2023 Texas Tech football season kicks off in Laramie, Wyoming and people across the country are predicting a return to national relevance for the Red Raiders.  However, expectations come with a bit of risk and it seems that some in scarlet and black are hesitant to embrace the hype surrounding this year’s team.

Understanding why isn’t hard.  After all, it isn’t as if Texas Tech is a blue-blood program that annually rattles off double-digit wins.  Rather, it seems as if every time that Tech makes national noise, it seems to come from out of almost nowhere.

In three of the last five seasons in which Tech finished as a ranked team, the Red Raiders started out unranked.  What’s more, in the other two of those seasons, Tech failed to finish the year ranked appreciably higher at the end of the year than they were ranked in the preseason. Of course, those seasons all happened in the Mike Leach era (a sobering thought) so it is hard to equate those trends with the current era of the program.

Be that as it may, fans have long memories and years of seeing the Red Raiders fail to rise up when expected to have created a bit of cynicism for some in West Texas.  Of course, that’s a natural way to protect yourself from disappointment and sports are almost certain to serve disappointment to fans on a cold platter at some point in just about every season.

Will the 2023 season be one that brings heartbreak and disappointment to Tech fans?  Or will this be seen as a successful year two for Joey McGuire?  Naturally, that’s going to depend on what one expects.

Gauging success for Texas Tech in 2023 depends on one’s perspective

The range of realistic outcomes for this year’s team is wide.  Some people, including individuals outside of the Red Raider fanbase, think that McGuire’s team could be this year’s version of TCU and go from unranked in the preseason to crashing the four-team College Football Playoff (CFP).

If that is your expectation, you are likely going to view this season as a disappointment.  Even as strong as the 2023 team appears to be, there’s still the reality that the CFP is a party that is usually reserved for only traditional powers in the sport.

In the nine years since that format has been in place, the only teams not considered bluebloods in the sport to crash the party have been TCU (2022) and Cincinnati (2021).  Thus, it seems unlikely that another interloper would upset the natural order of things for a third consecutive year.

Therefore, those with the grandest hopes are likely going to view 2023 differently than those of us who have more realistic hopes.  But what is “realistic” for this year’s squad?

Would a Big 12 title game appearance satisfy most fans, regardless of the outcome of that game?  Given that Tech has never played for the league crown in the quarter-century of the conference’s existence, it should.

The closest Tech has ever come to playing for the Big 12 title was in 2008 when a 3-way tie in the Big 12 South between Tech, OU, and UT was decided by B.C.S. ranking and in 2005 when the Red Raiders were second in the South behind Texas.  What’s more, Tech hasn’t actually won a conference championship since 1994 and hasn’t won an outright conference crown since 1976.

Thus, any logical fan would have to be thrilled if Tech were to be one of the two teams squaring off at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on December 2nd.   However, is there a scenario in which Tech can have a successful season even without playing in the Big 12 Championship Game?

Would a season in which Tech got to nine or even ten regular season wins but didn’t get into the Big 12 title fray be enough to be deemed a success?  What if Tech were to topple Oregon in week two to vault into the national polls but a stumble, perhaps on the road at BYU or Baylor, and then a close loss to Texas in the regular-season finale were to keep the Red Raiders from reaching Arlington despite a 10-2 season?

Such an outcome is entirely possible.  If Texas finally lives up to what its collection of talent suggests it should be and if OU slices through the easiest schedule in the Big 12, two conference losses might be enough to keep a team such as Tech or Kansas State from playing for the league crown.

Some might view that result as a success for Tech, though.  Keep in mind that this program has won ten games in a season on only six occasions in the nearly 100 years that it has been playing football.  What’s more, consider that the Red Raiders haven’t even reached the nine-win mark since 2009.

Thus, it is fair to question whether a nine-win season should be seen as a success as well.  That would be a one-game improvement over 2023 but for many, it would feel a bit hollow, especially given the depth and experience of the current roster.

After all, this is supposed to be the best Tech team since 2008.  With a massive number of seniors expected to start this year, many feel like 2023 could be the best chance this program will have to break through and be a force on the national stage again.  Nine wins won’t do that though.  At best, it would just be good enough to keep Tech in the bottom half of the national rankings.

Ultimately, success is defined by each individual and her or his perspective.  There is no denying that a season that includes Joey McGuire hoisting a Big 12 or a National Championship trophy would be an unquestioned success.

However, those are best-case scenarios and each is less than likely to happen.  Still, there is a way that 2023 could meet expectations without Tech stunning the college football world.  That is, of course, if you are not dreaming of grandeur.

Or perhaps, former Texas Tech Chancellor, Kent Hance’s mantra of “Dream no Little Dreams” should be how we approach 2023. Why not?  After all, isn’t it about time that the dreams of Red Raider fans finally come true?

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