Perspective Piece: Texas-Texas Tech

Staff Columnist
Posted Oct 29, 2008

Historically and currently, the flagship football program in the Lone Star State is used to playing in Texas-sized showdowns. Therefore, when the No. 1 Longhorns take the field Saturday night in Lubbock, the leading contender for the BCS Championship Game will not sweat bullets. The Eyes of Texas will instead be fixed upon the team standing in the way of a South Beach sojourn for Bevo's boys.

It's not as though Colt McCoy and company won't feel any pressure this weekend, in a hostile location against a loaded opponent. Playing in Lubbock has rarely been easy for Texas over the years, and with the inside track to Miami hanging in the balance, it's true that the Longhorns have a lot to lose.

But while Texas undeniably faces a high-stakes proposition this Saturday, it's also true that as long as Alabama loses—to LSU or the winner of this weekend's game between Florida and Georgia—the Longhorns, with a blemish on their record, could still book a January plane flight to South Florida at 12-1. Mack Brown's men will not face a national championship elimination game on the first day of November. Even with a defeat, the Big 12 South championship remains very much in play as well. Big-game familiarity, combined with leverage in national and conference standings, gives Texas some precious leeway heading into this duel after dusk.

When kickoff time comes calling this Saturday evening, the focus of the nation will be firmly affixed to the Red Raiders of Texas Tech. Mike Leach's lads represent the central actors in this delicious drama. The outcome of this game—and its affect on the perception of the Tech program—rests on the shoulders of the team that will try to be a mean and nasty host to the Horns.

Yes, Texas Tech has already shown in 2008 that mental toughness and defensive determination can be found on the Lubbock campus. More so than in past years, a Mike Leach team has showcased some swagger. Armed with an airtight offensive line and an increased sense of superiority, the Red Raiders have been able to physically and psychologically wear down their opponents. In light of the potency and precision provided by Graham Harrell's awesome offense, a mere handful of stops from Tech's defense have caused foes to fold. The pressure on opponents has been so pronounced this season that one defensive stop—as in the case of the Raiders' Kansas conquest a week ago—can easily represent a tidal wave of a turning point in a Texas Tech game. That kind of aura has enfolded Red Raider romps in the first eight games of a sparkling season.

But while 8-0 represents a significant step forward for the Tech program, the Big 12 South's most overachieving program over the past decade must now step up to the big boy table. This Texas tilt represents the first of three daunting deathmatches against the other heavies in college football's best division, with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma awaiting Leach's crew in the coming weeks. The law of the jungle in oil country has been laid down over the years by the state schools in Texas and Oklahoma, with Texas A&M's glory days a relic of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. History says that Texas Tech doesn't topple the toughs who have ruled the roost in the Big 12 South. Given their back-loaded schedule, the Red Raiders—in a certain significant sense—have a lot more to lose this Saturday. Sure, Texas is supposed to win national titles, while Tech is just beginning to smell the aroma of an ascendancy, but since this might be the biggest single game in the history of Texas Tech football, the pressure scales tip heavily toward the Red Raiders in this dance with destiny.

Texas's superb squad—already boasting man-sized slayings of Oklahoma, Missouri, and Oklahoma State—won't suffer a big dent in its reputation with a loss in Lubbock. The Red Raiders, on the other hand, will immediately retain their ugly stepsister status if they can't beat down Bevo with all the tortillas twirling in Jones AT&T Stadium. As big as this game is for everyone in Austin, it's the football equivalent of judgment day for Tech's team, coaching staff, and fan base. If the Red Raiders want to make a great leap forward and join the elites in college football, this hoedown with the Horns represents their biggest and best opportunity, the rare path to prestige that doesn't visit Lubbock very often in a lifetime.

The stage is set. The play now acquires the primacy. Given the glory waiting to be won, and the stomach-punch pain lurking in the shadows of a devastating defeat, will Texas Tech cross the threshold? Will Graham Harrell handle the heat? Will Tech's defense deliver a defining performance? Will a decorated offensive line keep Brian Orakpo and the rest of Texas's defensive front away from Harrell? Will Michael Crabtree smoke a young secondary that has played far beyond its years in the past month?

Texas has answered countless questions and overcome ample obstacles. Doubt doesn't dwell in Longhorn Land. No, the curiosity and skepticism of the college football community will be routed to the Red Raiders. An eccentric head coach, a fun-loving offensive line, and an unknown defense will go under the microscope, as America wonders if this Texas Tech team has the genetic makeup of a supreme Saturday specimen, the kind of crew that can toss aside Texas and go for the gold in college football.

Texas has one more big game to deal with on Saturday. Texas Tech merely has the world on its shoulders, in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. One school will just try to take care of business under the lights in Lubbock. The other will try to defy decades of history and overturn every assumption that has ever existed with respect to its football program.

Texas Tech, you may take the witness stand. Respond to the best of your ability… and see where you stack up when the smoke clears in the Southwest.

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