The bandwagon expands daily, with front-running fans eager to adopt an undefeated college football team in the mix for a BCS title.
By now, that list has been trimmed to 10. One of those left standing is No. 10 Texas Tech, where first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury urges his Red Raiders (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) to be wary of late-arriving admirers.
“It doesn’t matter what people are saying now, jumping on board,” Kingsbury said during this week’s news conference in Lubbock. “What matters is what we believed in this team room from Day One. The rest of it really doesn’t matter.”
In particular, Kingsbury is tired of the national perception that the Red Raiders have built their stellar record by feasting on cupcakes, with an overdue comeuppance looming around the next corner. He hopes to apply the brakes to that theory in Saturday’s trip to No. 15 Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1), where the Raiders will enter as seven-point underdogs.
“I know he takes it personally. You can see it in his eyes,” said tight end Jace Amaro, adding that Kingsbury’s speech before last week’s 37-27 victory at West Virginia referenced Tech being placed on “upset alert” by multiple analysts during ESPN’s GameDay telecast that morning. “I think the past three weeks they had us on ‘upset alert.’ He tells us every day how many times people are doubting us, that we have something to prove every single day in practice.”
During those addresses, Kingsbury becomes animated.
“He gets mad like he’s actually a player with us,” Amaro said. “I know it means a lot to him. He just brings a lot of fire and energy to our team. It really helps us pull through on those times where we’re struggling through the game.”
Thus far, Tech has not struggled to light up the scoreboard. The Red Raiders average 41.1 points per game. Their average margin of victory is 22.4 points, with six double-digit triumphs.
But naysayers are quick to mention one of the victims is Stephen F. Austin, an FCS school, and that six of Tech’s first seven opponents have losing records. The lone exception is Texas State (4-3), an FBS newbie not far removed from its own FCS days.
Tech’s soft nonconference schedule, combined with a freshman quarterback tandem, prevents some analysts from buying this team’s top 10 pedigree. That is why Tech keeps getting placed on “upset alert” by ESPN announcers.
Instead of seeing a team with unanswered questions, Kingsbury views himself as the architect of a squad with similar traits to last year’s Texas A&M team. Those Aggies, with Kingsbury as the offensive coordinator, featured a freshman quarterback, posted an 11-2 record and finished in the top 5 of the postseason polls. All of that came after the Aggies were picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC standings, much like Tech’s projected seventh-place finish in July’s Big 12 media poll.
With both teams, Kingsbury said a feeling of invincibility began to take over in players’ minds as they began stacking wins together.
“When you can continue to prove people wrong, it’s great for a team’s psyche,” Kingsbury said. “That’s been big for us. It’s very similar to the situation we had last year with Texas A&M.”
That mindset has carried Tech to one of the top four starts to any season in school history. Only in 2008, 1976 and 1938 have the Red Raiders matched or exceeded this year’s 7-0 break from the gate.
It is appropriate, perhaps, that the undefeated start will be put to the test in Norman, Okla., the place where Tech saw its school-best 10-0 record derailed during a 65-21 setback in 2008. The 2002 Tech team, with Kingsbury at quarterback, also dropped a 60-15 decision at OU in a season-ending matchup that decided the Big 12 South Division title.
“We definitely want to change history this time,” said Tech defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, a senior who committed to the Red Raiders shortly before the 2008 game.
Unlike members of the 2008 squad, Hyder and other upperclassmen have experienced success in Norman. They were part of the 2011 team that knocked off previously undefeated OU 41-38 as a 26-point underdog. Hyder said the 2011 victory means little this season. But he pointed to last week’s win at West Virginia, where Tech erased a 27-16 deficit in the final 18 minutes, as a comeback that “definitely got some confidence brewing” for these Red Raiders.
Like his coach, Hyder takes any Tech-related criticisms personally and longs to silence naysayers who underestimate this team.
“Any time you take a stab at my university, my players, I take everything to heart,” Hyder said. “We haven’t reached our goal yet; 7-0 is not our goal. Our goal is to win a Big 12 championship. Whenever we get that done, that’s when we’ll relax.”
At that point, perhaps, Kingsbury would be willing to open the bandwagon to new believers.
Spotlight on Malcolm Brown, Texas RB
Texas running back Malcolm Brown heads into Saturday’s game at TCU after posting season highs for carries (23) and rushing yards (120) in the Longhorns’ 36-20 upset of previously undefeated Oklahoma.
Brown did so on the same afternoon that fellow back Johnathan Gray, a former Aledo standout, rushed a season-high 29 times for 123 yards against OU. It marked the first time both of Texas’ five-star signees topped the 100-yard rushing mark in the same game.
Brown, a junior from Cibolo Steele, hopes it is the start of a trend.
“It was great. I’ve been waiting for it,” said Brown, whose previous season-best rushing effort came against Kansas State (nine carries, 40 yards). “The offensive line did such a great job, it was easy on us. We’re going to go in with the same mindset we had against Oklahoma. We want to run right at them.”
Brown acknowledged TCU (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) has “a great run defense,” one that coach Mack Brown called “the best in the Big 12 and maybe the best in the country.” But the Longhorns (4-2, 3-0) are committed to their ground-bound approach.
Malcolm Brown said: “I feel we can do that each and every week. I believe we can do that as a team.”