Texas Tech steadily climbed the rankings during its first 8-0 start since 1976, but didn’t figure prominently in the national title picture until last week’s victory over the top-ranked team in the country.
To stay in the BCS championship conversation, the Red Raiders probably can’t afford a letdown against another elite Big 12 South opponent.
Having already achieved their highest ranking ever and their longest undefeated start in 70 years, the second-ranked Red Raiders look to extend the longest winning streak in school history—and in the nation—to 12 games when they host No. 8 Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
Texas Tech (9-0, 5-0) used one of the nation’s most prolific offenses to win its first eight games for the first time since 1976, but it defeated only one ranked team in that stretch - a 63-21 victory over Kansas on Oct. 25 that dropped the then-No. 19 Jayhawks out of the poll.
After a last-second touchdown pass gave Texas Tech a thrilling 39-33 victory over top-ranked Texas last Saturday, however, there’s little doubt that the Red Raiders belong in the national title picture.
Graham Harrell completed 36 of 53 passes for 474 yards and two touchdowns, including a 28-yarder to Michael Crabtree with one second remaining that gave Texas Tech perhaps the biggest win in school history.
Now the Red Raiders are faced with the challenge of moving on to face the Cowboys (8-1, 4-1), whose only loss was a 28-24 defeat on the road against Texas on Oct. 25.
“I hope it’s not (difficult), but you worry,” Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said. “We’ve done a pretty good job this year, just trying to keep everybody in perspective. Now the biggest game in history is Oklahoma State, or the history of this year, anyway.”
Leach’s players appear to be getting the message, acknowledging that it’ll take continued success in the coming weeks for the Red Raiders’ first 9-0 start since 1938 to lead them to the national championship. After Oklahoma State, Texas Tech visits No. 6 Oklahoma - another one-loss division rival.
“The road’s not getting any easier for us,” said Harrell, a Heisman Trophy candidate who leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with 3,621 passing yards and ranks third with 30 TDs. “(The Texas game) was a great win for us. It was big for the program. But, at the same time, in order for it to mean anything we need to do it again.”
Oklahoma State potentially has just as much to gain from a victory Saturday. The Cowboys are one of three one-loss teams behind the Red Raiders in the South, and would seemingly have as much claim to BCS consideration as anyone in the division if they can hand Texas Tech its first defeat.
“When I was playing in the Big Eight, there were going to be two or three teams that would maybe be in the Top 25 in our league,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who played for the Cowboys from 1986-89. “As a coach, I can’t remember playing this many teams from one division that have been ranked in the top 10.
“Back to work this week.”
Gundy’s team rebounded from its loss to Texas by compiling 682 total yards in a 59-17 rout of Iowa State last Saturday. Zac Robinson completed 18 of 27 passes for 395 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
“We’re still in a good position,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a lot of things in front of us still. We’ll just kind of see how this whole thing plays out and keep on winning.”
Sophomore receiver Dez Bryant, second in the FBS with 1,054 receiving yards and tied with Crabtree and Rice’s Jarett Dillard for first with 15 TD catches, caught nine passes for 171 yards and four scores last Saturday to lead the Cowboys’ dynamic receiving corps.
“He’ll do something sometimes and you’ll go, ‘How did he do that?’ He’s ridiculous,” said fellow receiver Jeremy Broadway, who set a school record with a 95-yard touchdown catch last weekend. “I’m to a point with Dez that I’m not surprised anymore. … When the ball is in the air and Dez is 1-on-1, it’s automatic.”
Oklahoma State racked up a season-high 610 total yards in beating Texas Tech 49-45 last Sept. 22, but a repeat performance could be a challenge against an improved Red Raiders defense that leads the Big 12 with 349.6 scrimmage yards allowed per game.
The Cowboys are playing on the road against a team ranked in the top 3 for the third time in five weeks, having beaten then-No. 3 Missouri 28-23 on Oct. 11. They’ve lost 11 straight games in Lubbock since their last win there in 1944.