Though the 2023 Texas Tech football season was far from being the magical ride most fans were dreaming of, the season-ending victory over California in the Independence Bowl gave Red Raider fans something to feel good about heading into the offseason. What should really make those in scarlet and black feel encouraged, though, are some of the results from other bowl games as well.
Across the NCAA this bowl season, several teams have come from out of nowhere to claim victories in their postseason games and finish with surprisingly strong records. What's more, many of those teams were expected to be dreadful this year according to almost everyone.
Texas Tech fans should realize that building a contender doesn't have to take a decade
Perhaps the most surprising team in the country this year was Missouri. Despite entering the season on a very hot seat, head coach Eli Drinkwitz, who had not produced a winning season in his first three years in Colombia, guided his team to a stunningly fantastic 2023.
Missouri was picked second to last in the SEC East in the preseason and received the third-fewest votes of any team in the conference. Yet, the Tigers went 11-2 this fall and beat No. 7 Ohio State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. Now, it appears that Mizzou will end up ranked in the top 10 in the final polls.
That's simply amazing given that the Tigers went just 6-7 the last two years and had not had a winning season since 2018 under a different coaching staff. What's more, they had no bowl wins since 2014 but now, they are one of the toasts of the sport.
Out west, Arizona stunned everyone this year by going 10-3 and beating No. 12 OU in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Remember that the Wildcats were picked 8th in the PAC-12 preseason poll.
Head coach Jedd Fisch's program was just 5-7 last year and was a dreadful 1-11 in 2021. In fact, Zona had not won more than five games since 2017 and they had not won 10 games in a season since 2014. Now, they too could end the year as a top-10 team.
Closer to home, West Virginia beat North Carolina in the Duke's Mayo Bowl. One year ago, WVU was 5-7 overall and the Mountaineers had just one winning season in the last four (and that was a 6-4 showing in the weird 2020 COVID-19 impacted season).
Of course, Red Raider fans may remember that WVU was picked to finish last in the preseason Big 12 poll and many assumed that head coach Neal Brown would be fired at some point this season. Instead, he guided WVU to a 9-win season and likely a top-25 ranking to end the year.
Don't sleep on what Northwestern did this year either. Going 8-5 and winning the Las Vegas Bowl over highly-regarded Utah, the Wildcats had one of the most improbable seasons one could imagine. That was despite having to fire head coach Pat Fitzgerald in July after allegations of hazing within the program. What's more, the Wildcats went just 1-11 in 2022 and 3-9 in 2021.
Texas Tech could be a surprise team in 2024
What Texas Tech fans should take away from the 2023 successes of Missouri, Arizona, West Virginia, and Northwestern is that even non-blue-blood programs can engineer quick turnarounds in the era of the transfer portal. No longer does it require four or five years to build a contending team in the NCAA thanks to the ease of player movement and that's great news for a Red Raider program desperate for a return to national relevance after wandering around in the college football wilderness for over a decade.
Fortunately, Tech is not nearly as woebegone as the programs listed above were before they broke through in 2023. The Red Raiders have had three straight winning seasons and have won their last three bowl games in dominating fashion.
Joey McGuire will not enter 2024 on the hot seat nor does his cupboard appear bare. His team will not be picked at the bottom of next year's preseason Big 12 poll but rather, somewhere in the jumbled middle of a league that no one will know what to make of given the lack of any blue-blood bullies with Oklahoma and Texas headed to the SEC.
Still, no one is going to give Tech the benefit of the doubt heading into next season, especially after Tech spit the bit early in 2023 following significant offseason hype from both internal and external sources. That's fine. It just means that the Red Raiders have the opportunity to become the 2024 version of Missouri or Arizona, teams that went from obscurity to top-15 programs in the span of one season.
Next season, McGuire will be in year three of his tenure. That's plenty of time for his culture to take full effect and for him to have his fingerprints all over everything.
Also, he has put together a sneaky-good roster that has addressed many of the flaws that plagued his team in 2023 by hitting the transfer portal effectively. Then, there is the fact that Tech will have a somewhat favorable schedule next year with Washington State replacing Oregon in week two as the non-conference road trip and seven home games including five conference games at Jones Stadium.
So don't be afraid to dream again Texas Tech fans. Of course, some of us may still be scarred by the fact that this program fell flat on its face this September after being a trendy dark horse pick in the offseason.
However, the fact is that every year, some college football team comes from out of left field to stun the country and have a magical year. Why couldn't that be the Red Raiders in 2024? If Missouri and Arizona can do that in 2023, then Tech certainly could be the next surprise contender in the NCAA.