Texas Tech is the only Big 12 team to post a winning record in each of the conference’s first 12 seasons. As the Red Raiders enter their conference opener, however, their eyes are on something bigger than finishing above .500.
Hoping to remain undefeated and begin their quest for their first Big 12 title, the No. 7 Red Raiders take their highest ranking in more than 30 years into Manhattan to meet Kansas State on Saturday.
Texas Tech compiled a 91-57 overall record in the first 12 seasons of the Big 12, which started play in 1996. Though they were the only team in the conference to finish with a winning record in each of those years, the Red Raiders are still seeking their first Big 12 South title and trip to the conference championship game.
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has reason to believe this could be the breakthrough year for the program. Sporting their customary high-powered offense, the Red Raiders (4-0) rank ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 45.8 points per game and third with 572.8 yards per game. More significantly, they’ve also improved defensively, giving up an average of 16 points.
Though Texas Tech was idle last week, it jumped three spots to seventh in the AP poll - the team’s highest ranking since it was a school-record No. 5 for three straight weeks during the 1976 season.
The current Red Raiders could challenge for the highest ranking in their history if they produce a similar performance to their last game. They recorded a season-high point total in a 56-14 victory over Massachusetts on Sept. 20.
Heisman Trophy hopeful Graham Harrell threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns without an interception, and he got plenty of help from Texas Tech’s running back tandem.
Baron Batch had 55 rushing yards and 68 receiving yards while Shannon Woods, who fell out of favor with Leach for much of last season, had 108 yards on the ground and 53 more receiving. Together they compiled 284 total yards - more than half of Tech’s 538.
“I think they complement each other real well because they literally compete for yards on the ground and in the air,” Leach said. “You can kind of tell they’re observing one another and bringing the best of the other to their game.”
Woods, who had three rushing touchdowns for the first time since a bowl win over Minnesota in 2006, appears to be back in Leach’s good graces.
“The doghouse pretty well ended when we started spring and he competed hard,” Leach said. “He always has had the ability to be really polished. When he’s on his A-game, he blocks as good as anybody in the league. When he’s doing all the little things right, he’s pretty good.”
Leach may need another big game from Woods as Texas Tech faces an explosive Kansas State team that’s eighth in the FBS with 47.0 points per game. Converted receiver Lamark Brown ran 29 times for 137 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats (3-1, 0-0) beat Louisiana-Lafayette 45-37 last Saturday.
“He really picked up on things quickly,” Kansas State coach Ron Prince said of Brown, a running back at Hazelwood West High School in Hazelwood, Mo., before starting his college career at receiver in 2007. “He’s a very serious-minded kid, and he wants to do very well.”
Brown’s effort against the Ragin’ Cajuns was the first 100-yard rushing game for the Wildcats this season. It helped diversify Kansas State’s offense, which had 313 passing yards but only 30 yards on the ground in its previous game - a 38-29 loss Sept. 17 at Louisville.
“It’s exciting for me,” Brown said. “I feel like I can go out and help the team win more, and help us get a running game to balance out our offense.”
“(Running back’s) like my home. I’ve played it since I was 8. To go back to it was like back to normal.”
Brown helped open up the field for junior quarterback Josh Freeman, who went 21-for-28 for 272 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Freeman, who also ran for two TDs, became Kansas State’s career leader with 6.238 passing yards, breaking Lynn Dickey’s mark which stood for 38 years. He’s also two touchdown passes shy of Ell Roberson’s school record of 37.
The Wildcats have been outscored 132-64 in losing their last three meetings with the Red Raiders, including a 35-25 defeat in 2004, the last time the teams played in Manhattan.
Texas Tech leads the all-time series 6-3.
The Red Raiders are 8-4 in Big 12 openers.