Texas Tech heads to Oklahoma as underdogs
It was hard to find a face without a smile in the locker room after Texas Tech's come-from-behind win against West Virginia to reach 7-0. Before his postgame speech ended in chest bumps and screams from every white jersey in the room, Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury reminded his team that it hadn't even come close to playing its "best game."
America hasn't seen the team Kingsbury has seen in pieces through spring and fall camp. If he's coaching something that resembles that team on Saturday, a whole lot could change for Texas Tech very fast. A season with moderate expectations could begin to look more and more like a historic year.
Two weeks ago, No. 5 Missouri turned heads by rolling over Georgia between the hedges. Last week, Florida State announced their presence as a national title contender by beating up No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley and coming home with a 37-point win.
Kingsbury knows how much one game can change how the college football world sees a team. Last season, he called the plays for Texas A&M's upset win at Alabama that all but earned Johnny Manziel a Heisman Trophy. The Aggies didn't lose again and finished in the top five of the AP poll for the first time since 1956.
The formula is the same: A team exceeding expectations goes on the road to one of college football's most storied stadiums and wins as an underdog.
This week, Kingsbury takes his 7-0 Texas Tech team to Norman, Okla. as a seven-point underdog, despite sitting five spots above the Sooners at No. 10 in the BCS rankings.
"We were basically picked 10th in our conference to start the year, so if we were to believe that, we wouldn't be where we're at," Kingsbury said. "Those rankings don't mean anything to us."
Texas Tech was picked to finish seventh in the conference by the media before the season. A win against Oklahoma might put the Red Raiders into the national top seven and log the program's biggest road win since, well, its last trip to Norman when it beat No. 3 Oklahoma in 2011, snapping the Sooners 39-game home winning streak.
Texas Tech is still ninth in the Big 12 in turnover margin and last in the league in penalty yardage and penalties per game.
Close wins against TCU, Iowa State and West Virginia haven't been pretty, and have the Red Raiders still searching for respect. Despite suffering that 37-point loss at home this week, Clemson is still ahead of Tech in the BCS rankings, and one-loss Stanford is four spots above the Red Raiders.
Wins are wins, but Texas Tech has a chance for more against Oklahoma in a game Kingsbury's calling a "huge challenge."
"I don't have fond memories of playing there," he said.
Kingsbury threw one touchdown and two interceptions in both of his trips to Norman, a 45-point loss in 2002 and a 14-point loss in 2000, when the Sooners won their last national title.
"That's one of the storied stadiums that always has a passionate fan base and a great atmosphere, so it's going to be intense," Kingsbury said. "I hope my players embrace the challenge of going there and dealing with the noise and hostility and try to play our best game."
The Red Raiders' run has been even more unlikely considering quarterbacks Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield were both rolling up yards as high school passers a year ago, while Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator at A&M.
Presumed starting quarterback Michael Brewer still isn't at full strength after suffering a back injury during the offseason.
Inexperience that spawned skepticism before the season has yet to spawn a loss. Instead, the Red Raiders (who have loads of experience pretty much everywhere besides the sidelines and at quarterback) are enjoying their first time back in the BCS top 10 since 2008.
"I'm proud for them," Kingsbury said of his quarterbacks. "It's not an easy situation, with those young guys playing and the camaraderie they've shown and the support they've shown each other each week to go out there and play has been fun to watch."
Mistakes have piled up in the first seven games, and Tech has trailed by double digits in two of its last three Big 12 games, but rallied in both games to log wins by 38 and 10 points.
"We know we haven't played our best game and there's been some really sloppy things going on on this field the last couple weeks," Kingsbury said, "but when they've had to make clutch plays, they've made them."