A flip of the calendar can change the direction of a college football program.
For proof, look no further than No. 10 TCU (5-1, 2-1 Big 12). The Horned Frogs are the top-ranked team in Texas despite coming off last year’s 4-8 record.
An even better example might be Saturday’s opponent in Fort Worth.
Texas Tech (3-4, 1-3) held the No. 10 spot in The Associated Press’ poll exactly one year ago. The Red Raiders were 7-0 under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, three-deep in talented young quarterbacks and brimming with confidence about their chances to win an unexpected Big 12 title.
A year later, Tech heads into Saturday’s matchup against TCU with a 2-9 record in its last 11 matchups against teams from Power 5 conferences. This season’s mark is 1-4, with the lone victory over Kansas (2-5, 0-4), a school that fired its coach last month.
Kingsbury, 35, is now considered a “hot” young coach more for his resemblance to actor Ryan Gosling than for his 11-9 ledger in Lubbock. Tech is down to one proven quarterback on its roster, sophomore starter Davis Webb, and the defense ranks last among Big 12 teams in three crucial areas: scoring defense (36.9 average), total defense (467.7 yards per game) and rushing defense (239.0 yards per game).
Once again, Tech faces a difficult closing stretch on this year’s schedule. The Red Raiders will need a victory against a ranked team — No. 10 TCU, No. 12 Baylor (6-1, 3-1) or No. 17 Oklahoma (5-2, 2-2) — to become bowl-eligible. And that would happen only if Tech also takes care of business against two comparable strugglers, Texas (3-4, 2-2) and Iowa State (2-5, 0-4).
That makes Saturday’s contest at Amon G. Carter Stadium a pivotal one for a Tech team that has not seen many things fall its way over the last 52 weeks. The list includes the transfers of two quality quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield to Oklahoma, Michael Brewer to Virginia Tech), the September departure of defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt and an undisciplined approach that places Tech near the bottom of the nation’s 125 FBS schools in penalties (92.6 yards per game, No. 124) and turnover margin (minus-8, No. 118).
“We haven’t played as well as we can play by a long shot. We’re still searching for that,” Kingsbury said during this week’s news conference in Lubbock. “We’re going to have to do something because [TCU] will be the best defense we’ve played. Offensively, we haven’t played well enough to beat a team like this yet. We’ll have to step our game up.”
Problem is, nothing that has transpired this season suggests Tech is capable of stepping up. Among 33 team categories tracked by Big 12 statisticians, Tech ranks last among league schools in nine of them. Only Kansas, with 10, is a bigger statistical bottom-feeder.
Yet there have been enough bright spots that players envision flipping their record back in a positive direction over the final five games: a 180-degree change from last year’s 0-5 stretch during crunch time.
“With this team, we know what we can be when we’re doing what we’re capable of doing and not shooting ourselves in the foot,” said running back DeAndre Washington, who ranks third among Big 12 rushers (622 yards, 5.6 per carry). Washington said last week’s 34-21 victory over Kansas marked “a positive step toward the second half of the season and making a push at this thing.”
If so, Tech will need Webb to continue leading the Big 12 in touchdown passes (22) while surrendering his league lead in interceptions (12). It will require linebacker Pete Robertson, the Big 12 leader in sacks (eight), to receive more help from his defensive teammates.
More than anything, it will require Kingsbury and his staffers to make better coaching decisions. The head-scratcher, thus far, is their yo-yo trick with Kenny Williams, the team’s leading rusher in 2012 and 2013.
Moved from running back to a starting linebacker spot in the spring because of his athleticism, Williams was replaced in the defensive lineup after three starts and returned to running back before the West Virginia game on Oct. 11.
Considered the team’s best athlete and a team leader, Williams has yet to make a meaningful contribution through seven games on defense (21 tackles) or offense (four carries, 8 yards) in his senior season.
The next challenge is dealing with Jakeem Grant, who ranks among the Big 12’s top receivers (50 catches, 629 yards, five touchdowns) but was wounded in a melee at a Sunday morning, off-campus party where shots were fired. Barring an unexpected turn in an ongoing investigation, Kingsbury said he expects Grant to play against TCU.
Robertson said players are anxious to build on last week’s victory over Kansas by upsetting a TCU team they have beaten the past two seasons.
“We can’t live on the past, but the past is still there. We beat them twice,” Robertson said. “We started off really slow this season. But the last few weeks, we’re stepping it up.”
Robertson said he still envisions Tech earning a bowl berth. The stats suggest otherwise. Either way, the past year — for both Tech and TCU — underscores how quickly the direction of a season or a program can change in college football.
TCU vs. Texas Tech
2:30 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4
A year ago, Texas Tech was undefeated and ranked in the Top 10. This season, TCU is ranked 10th, the state’s top ranked team. How the teams compare, with Big 12 rank in parenthesis.
|Scoring offense||45.2 (2)||30.9 (7)|
|Scoring defense||20.7 (1)||36.9 (10)|
|Total offense||537.7 (3)||488.3 (4)|
|Total defense||359.5 (4)||467.7 (10)|
|Turnover margin||Plus 8 (1)||Minus 8 (9)|
Spotlight: Dylan Haines, Texas, S
Individuals seeking biographical information about Texas safety Dylan Haines will find it in short supply in this year’s media guide, where the sophomore shares a page with 14 others who began their college careers as walk-ons. But Haines has earned his share of the spotlight, as well as a scholarship, with his on-field efforts this season as Texas (3-4, 2-2 Big 12) heads into Saturday’s game at No. 11 Kansas State (5-1, 3-0).
Haines, from Lago Vista, has been a starter the past six games and contributed a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown in last week’s 48-45 victory over Iowa State. The son of former NFL and Texas defensive end John Haines, a Fort Worth Arlington Heights graduate, the younger Haines turned heads in fall camp and has emerged as one of the team’s most consistent players in the secondary.
Before that, Dylan Haines (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) recalled spending most of two seasons serving as “a hitting dummy” for teammates. He blossomed after catching the eye of defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, one of his father’s college teammates.
“The walk-on tryouts were tough … probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Haines, who received no college offers from Division I or Division II schools coming out of high school. “My dad had a huge impact on me deciding to come to UT and then walking on. It’s been really special. He texts me every day and tells me that he’s extremely proud of me.”
Fresh perspective: October upsets have triggered a fresh perspective about identifying favorites in the Big 12 football race. Heading into Saturday’s games, the ESPN Football Power Index has given TCU (31 percent) and Baylor (31 percent) the highest probabilities of emerging as the league champion. The co-favorites are followed by Kansas State (18 percent), Oklahoma (12 percent) and West Virginia (8 percent). In the preseason media poll, the top three teams were Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State. TCU was seventh. West Virginia was eighth.
Creative scoring: Kansas State defensive back Danzel McDaniel had a 5-yard interception return for a touchdown in last week’s 31-30 upset of Oklahoma, giving the 11th-ranked Wildcats their 93rd non-offensive touchdown since 1999. Over the last 15 seasons, that figure leads the nation as the Wildcats prepare for Saturday’s game against Texas.
Long distance Lambert: West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert has connected on all four of his field-goal attempts from 50 yards or longer this season, including a 54-yarder in last week’s 41-27 upset of then-No. 4 Baylor. Lambert has made five kicks from 50 yards or longer in his career, giving him a share of the school record heading into Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State.
No. 10 TCU 45, Texas Tech 21 (2:30 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch.4): Horned Frogs validate their top-10 ranking, plunder Red Raiders’ porous defense.
No. 11 Kansas State 38, Texas 24 (11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN): Wildcats stay undefeated in league play, improve to 5-1 against Longhorns in Manhattan, Kan., during Big 12 era.
No. 22 West Virginia 42, Oklahoma State 28 (2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN): Mountaineers win their fourth straight game, become bowl-eligible because of their big-play offense.
Last week: 5-0