Football

Texas Tech football is not bound to the last decade

You ever get mad at a take on Twitter at midnight? It happened to me on Sunday, when I came across this implication that if Texas Tech can’t win under Kliff Kingsbury then they probably can’t ever win.

I’ll dissect the tweet further later on, but my initial reaction was: Why doesn’t anybody ask if it’s impossible to win at Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor, or Texas A&M?

Many national observers and perhaps even some Texas Tech fans don’t understand the program’s historical record against its conference peers. Texas Tech has played Baylor more than any other program and the all-time series is tied. Dig deeper and you’ll find that Baylor was a member of a major conference (the Southwest Conference) 45 years before Texas Tech was elevated to that status. Once the programs were on equal footing in terms of conference affiliation and therefore more comparable in terms of program resources in 1960, Texas Tech is 35-26 against Baylor. Nobody wonders if it’s possible to win at Baylor.

Texas Tech leads the all-time series against TCU, 32-28. If you subtract the years before Texas Tech was in the SWC and the years TCU was in the Mountain West, it’s Texas Tech by a margin of 25-18. Nobody wonders if it’s possible to win at TCU.

I’ve always thought Oklahoma State is one of (if not the) most comparable program to Texas Tech in all the Big 12 and maybe the country. Texas Tech leads the all-time series 23-21. One of my favorite historical tidbits is that Oklahoma State has never once led this series. They’ve been tied with Texas Tech at 0-0, 4-4, and 21-21, but they’ve never led the all-time series. And both programs entered a major conference at the same time in 1960 (Texas Tech in the SWC, and Oklahoma State in the Big 8), so they’ve pretty much always been on equal footing in that respect. Nobody wonders if it’s possible to win at Oklahoma State.

Now comes my favorite comparison: Texas A&M. I was coming of age in the 2000s when Texas Tech won seven (7) out of eight (8) from 2001-2008. My perception of the in-state pecking order as I grew up in Austin was that Texas was No. 1, and Texas Tech and A&M were fighting it out (and the Red Raiders were usually winning) for second place. Texas A&M’s national perception has always outpaced their reality.

Their alleged peer and fellow state flagship, Texas, has beaten the Aggies head-to-head 76 times vs. just 37 losses. A&M is flush with resources and a positive perception among national observers. How do they stack up against Texas Tech all-time?

The Aggies lead the series 37-32. Given the disparity in resources for both programs, A&M should lead by more. How about in the modern era, post-WWII? It’s 32-32. Since both programs were in a major conference? Texas Tech leads 27-24. In the Big 12 era? Texas Tech leads 10-6. Nobody wonders if it’s possible to win at Texas A&M.

So why does Texas Tech’s perception lag so far behind its historical reality against comparable programs and conference peers? Three reasons:

  1. Recency bias
  2. No top end achievements
  3. No benefit of being a historical flagship

 

Let’s break these down.

 

Recency bias

The narrative that Texas Tech is a bad program that can’t win is certainly a new one. I have a long memory, and dug up this old tweet from 2017 which, to me, basically reads: “You can’t expect Kingsbury to win at Texas Tech because they’ve always been a losing program.”

Quite the contrary. Kingsbury’s tenure (plus a few years of Tuberville and one year of Matt Wells taking over for Kingsbury) constituted the very worst decade in program history. This notion that we lost last decade despite Kingsbury rather than because of his shortcomings as a college coach (namely, lack of recruiting and coaching network) is just wrong. Kingsbury’s conference record of 19-35 (35%) is only better than Tommy Tuberville (9-17, 29%) and Jerry Moore (9-29, 25%). So two of the three worst coaches in terms of conference winning percentage came in the 2010s.

The tweet author notes that the landscape has shifted since Leach’s success (resurgence of Baylor, addition of TCU to the Big 12), but I don’t agree that such a shift means Texas Tech has no choice but for the worst decade in program history to become the norm.

(A couple notes here: I love Kliff and am glad he’s succeeding in the NFL. He’s a better fit there than he was for the college game. Matt Wells is 4-12 (25%) in the Big 12 so far, for whatever that’s worth.)

 

Lack of top end achievements

Unfortunately for Texas Tech, despite having favorable all-time series records against in-state and conference peers, their winning seasons fall short of memorable, high end achievements. Take 2008 for instance. Great season. 11 wins. No conference championship, no BCS bowl appearance, no Cotton Bowl win. Compare that to Oklahoma State in 2011 or TCU in 2014. Both teams went 11-1 in the regular season, just like Tech did in 2008. Oklahoma State got a Big 12 championship banner and a Fiesta Bowl victory out of it. TCU technically split the Big 12 title with Baylor in 2014 (despite losing head-to-head) and won the Peach Bowl against Ole Miss.

Johnny Manziel won a Heisman trophy at A&M in 2012 and the Aggies won the Cotton Bowl.

Those types of seasons are what earn a program some long term credibility. Texas Tech has been unable to parlay its good seasons into top end achievements, which harms perception about “winning.” And apparently this was supposed to be obvious from the original tweet that sparked all of this, though that was lost on a simpleton like me.

Nobody wonders if it’s possible to win at Oklahoma State, where they have one outright conference title in the last 72 years (you have to go back to their days in the Missouri Valley Conference to find their last outright conference title before 2011’s Big 12 title). Or TCU, which has half of a disputed title in nearly a decade of Big 12 play, and zero (0) outright major conference titles in 62 years. Or Baylor, which has one outright title in the last 40 years (and only three outright since the Great Depression). Or Texas A&M, which has one in my 27 years of life. To be fair, Texas Tech has no outright SWC or Big 12 titles of their own – I’m simply wondering why we’re treated so differently than these other programs that have zero (0) or one (1) in the same time span.

But then again, the author’s tweet wasn’t just directed at Texas Tech, but, uh, everyone who’s not a blue blood. So I digress.

 

Not a historical flagship

Another unfortunate factor at play for Texas Tech’s perception is that it’s not a state flagship (think Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Florida, Tennessee, LSU, etc.). Tech doesn’t even get the benefit that A&M does in terms of perception outpacing reality. Tech will always be the outsider/challenger in-state, more along the lines of Oklahoma State, Louisville, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, etc.

Even that is no guarantee, as Texas has five (5) Power 5 programs in-state (the most of any state). Even to be considered second fiddle behind Texas or A&M, Tech has to consistently beat TCU and Baylor. The programs mentioned above have a built-in floor; Oklahoma State will never be surpassed by Tulsa, nor will Michigan State ever be surpassed by Western Michigan. UCF and USF will never surpass Florida State or Miami.

– – –

I’m done pretending that the last decade is what Texas Tech has always been. I’m not here to convince you that we’re an all-time powerhouse. We don’t deserve to be revered with the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma. But we deserve more respect than being relegated to our worst decade in program history. The numbers don’t lie. Texas Tech leads the all-time series against TCU and Oklahoma State, they’re tied with Baylor, and they lead all-time against Texas A&M after 1960.

So is it possible to win at Texas Tech?

It was possible in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s when our conference peers were desert/border schools and Tech won nine (9) conference championships against the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, New Mexico, and UTEP. In 1960, Tech moved up to the big kids table and held their own against peers like SMU, TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and A&M. It was possible in the late 80s and throughout the 90s when Spike Dykes had a .500 record against Texas, where nobody wonders if it’s possible to win. And it was possible in the 2000s when Mike Leach had arguably the best decade in school history.

So did things magically change for the 2020s and beyond? I don’t think so. What Texas Tech is today and what it has been this decade is not what it has always been or what it’s destined to remain in the future.

PS – Circling back to the original tweet and the snarky comment about convincing 4-star defensive players to come to Lubbock, I’d simply counter with this: Wes Kittley recruits Olympians and national champions to Lubbock. Tim Tadlock recruits College World Series caliber players and MLB draft picks to Lubbock. And Chris Beard recruits Final Four caliber players and NBA draft picks to Lubbock.

Do I expect Texas Tech to outdo Saban and Dabo on the recruiting trail? No. Do I think it’s just outlandish to believe good players can be recruited here and win in football? Hell no.

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