No. 4: Amier Washington's Texas Tech coming out party in the Independence Bowl
Speaking of performances that seemed to come from out of nowhere, the next entry on our countdown took just about every Texas Tech football fan by surprise. After registering no stats in the regular season, freshman Amier Washington had a huge night in the Independence Bowl Victory over Cal.
In fact, it could be argued that his showing in Tech's 34-14 win was the most dominant a Red Raider pass rusher was all season long. Racking up three sacks and four total tackles (all going for a loss), he also forced a fumble as he and the rest of his defensive teammates shut out Cal after the Golden Bears put up 14 first-quarter points.
To say that Washington's showing was unexpected would be an understatement. Only moved to defensive end because senior Myles Cole opted out of the bowl game and senior edge rusher Steve Linton was unable to play with a back injury, Washington had not played end at all until the season's final game.
His first sack of the night came in the second quarter with Tech ahead 21-14. Coming on second down, the strip sack forced Cal into a 3rd-and-23 from its own seven eventually leading to a punt. Interestingly, that punt would travel only 35 yards to give Tech great field position, starting the ensuing drive at the Red Raider 46. That led to an eventual field goal to give Washington and his team a 10-point halftime lead.
In the second half, Washington would record two more sacks to help his defense pitch a shutout. It was one of only two 3-sack performances on the season by a Red Raider.
The other was Linton's big night against Baylor in Waco when he showed for the only time in 2023 why he was so hyped by the coaching staff all offseason. That performance might also belong on this list but given that Baylor was one of the worst teams in the Big 12 and given that Washington's 3-sack night came in a bowl game, he gets the edge here.
Now, it is fair to wonder if this performance will be a preview of what's to come from the youngster. The Orange, Texas native was not a blue-chip signee in the class of 2023. Rather, he was a 3-star player who was rated the No. 108 defensive lineman in the nation. What's more, his only other offer came from Baylor.
At 275 pounds, Washington started his Red Raider career at defensive tackle before getting a shot to play end in the Independence Bowl. Now, with one performance, he's opened enough eyes to warrant a serious look during spring practice and fall camp as a potential starter there for 2024.
Many argue that the trend of players opting out of bowl games has made the bulk of the college football postseason meaningless and when it comes to wins and losses, that might be the case. However, young players like Washington are exactly who benefit from a bowl game the most because more and more they are receiving extended practice reps and they get to showcase what they can do in the bowl game itself.
Washington made the most of his opportunity this year and had one of the best breakout days of the season. Now, he enters the offseason with elevated confidence but also with elevated expectations.