The start of Big 12 play is a natural time to take stock of where the Texas Tech football program stands. Sitting at just 1-2 on the season and just 9-7 in the Joey McGuire era, it feels as if the program is entering a crucial stretch with the start of conference play.
Beginning with Saturday’s game at West Virginia, the Red Raiders will open a three-week run of games that must be put into the win column. In fact, if McGuire’s team wants to be any type of factor in the conference race, a winning streak through this portion of the schedule is non-negotiable.
Over the next three games, Tech will face the Mountaineers in Morgantown, Houston in Lubbock, and Baylor in Waco. Those are the three most winnable games left in 2023 and all must go Tech’s way.
Those three teams enter week four with a combined record of just 4-5. What’s more, each team has shown tremendous warts thus far.
WVU was beaten thoroughly by Penn State in week one, 38-15. What’s more, last week, the Mountaineers struggled at home to put away an awful Pitt team winning only 17-6. Keep in mind that the week prior, Pitt lost at home to a Cincy team that is one of the worst teams in the Big 12 so even though Neal Brown’s Mountaineers secured a win in that rivalry game, it is no sign that WVU is headed for a strong season.
Houston has not impressed either in 2023. After a decent 17-14 win over UTSA to open the year, the Cougars have dropped back-to-back games to Rice and TCU. While it was no shock to see Dana Holgorsen’s team dominated by the Frogs (36-13), losing to the Owls (43-41) was certainly unexpected and a sign that Holgorsen’s program is trending in the wrong direction.
As for the Bears, well, it’s been a calamitous start to the year. Sure, they have the same record as Tech, 1-2, but their first loss of the year was an 11-point home upset at the hands of Texas State. While they should be commended for battling No. 12 Utah for four quarters the next week (eventually losing 20-13), there is no denying that the Bears are another program that appears to be on the decline.
As for Tech, the jury is still out. Was last year’s 8-5 start to the McGuire era a sign that this program is headed in the right direction for the first time in over a decade or was 2022 just an anomaly given the three overtime wins Tech managed to secure? Perhaps the next three games will help to answer those questions.
If Tech hopes to have the type of season that will be another stepping stone on the climb back to Big 12 respectability, then its record after the October 7th trip to Waco must be 4-2. That’s because business picks up significantly once mid-October rolls around.
The three games following the matchup with Baylor will see Tech host Kansas State, travel to BYU, and host TCU. Those three teams are currently 7-2 on the season and each is a quality squad.
K-State was ranked until this week after falling to rival Missouri 30-27 on the road thanks to a game-winning 61-yard field goal by the Tigers. Meanwhile, TCU began the year ranked as well but a 45-42 loss to Colorado in Fort Worth to open the season sent them out of the polls. However, no one looks at that loss in a negative light these days given the Buffalos’ 3-0 start under head coach Deion Sanders.
Also, keep in mind that BYU is coming off an impressive 38-31 win at Arkansas in week three. That victory might be a sign that the Cougars are going to be a force to be reckoned with in their first year in the Big 12.
Of course, Tech fans are well aware of how difficult it has been for Tech to beat the Wildcats and Horned Frogs in recent years. Riding a seven-game losing streak to Kansas State and a four-game losing streak to TCU, it has been a while since the Red Raiders have beaten either of their purple-clad conference rivals.
After that three-game stretch, life won’t be much easier, though. A trip to Kansas, a home tilt with UCF, and a trip to Texas close out the regular season for the Red Raiders. None of those games will be easy, to say the least, given that all three of those teams are currently undefeated.
That’s why the upcoming three-game stretch is so pivotal. The six teams Tech will play after the Baylor game currently have a combined record of 16-2. Now, the conference will start to cannibalize itself over the next two months but regardless, the back half of the Red Raiders’ schedule is going to be no walk in the park.
The players and coaches have to take the season one week at a time and focus only on the next game. However, everyone in scarlet and black can see how important the next three games will be for this program. In fact, it could be argued that this three-game stretch is going to be what defines the direction that this program is headed in because if Tech can’t have success during this stretch, it will be tough for McGuire’s team to get back to a bowl game.