Anyone who cares about Texas Tech football got spoiled over the last two decades. It might not have been completely smooth sailing -- Tech’s never played in a BCS bowl or even a Big 12 championship game -- but being at least pretty good every season beat most of the alternatives.
Red Raiders fans didn’t fatten their travel agents’ wallets every winter. But somewhere along the way, having not experienced a losing season since 1992, a steady stream of bowl trips came to be the norm.
This looks like the year the string will end.
Tech’s in a 1-6 tailspin over the last seven weeks, its losing streak extended to four games by a 31-27 decision Saturday against Missouri. Baylor’s Robert Griffin has matured into an NFL-caliber quarterback, has plenty of help and led the Bears to an upset of Oklahoma on Saturday.
It’s hard to picture Tech beating Baylor this weekend unless … the Bears fizzle as badly after upsetting OU as the Red Raiders did.
That’s unfortunate, because Tech’s 2011 team is exactly the type that could benefit most from an extra few weeks of practice before a bowl game. With so few seniors playing vital roles, the Raiders will enter next season with a cast of characters similar to this year’s, just older.
Boy, do they need the extra work.
The Red Raiders emerged from a three-week fog Saturday in Columbia, Mo., jumping on Missouri 14-0 and holding the lead until late in the fourth quarter. In the unfriendly environment of the Tigers’ senior day, Tech played well enough often enough to steer clear of any big momentum crashes.
Still, the Red Raiders couldn’t go the distance without some shortcomings showing up again: from the offense, there was the failure to make the most of every scoring chance. While they put up 27 points, the Raiders netted a total of six from three drives that reached the Tigers’ 26- , 13- and 7-yard lines.
The defense forced four punts and a fumble for an encouraging start, but that’s about all the unit’s been able to deliver this year. The Tigers drove 90 yards for a touchdown to get into the game in the first half, then drove 89 yards for a touchdown to win it at the end.
And so the Raiders are in the same position in which they’ve found themselves for a month now — still trying to get that sixth win to become bowl eligible. Of course, since eight Big 12 teams already are bowl eligible, beating Baylor to finish 6-6 might not be enough for Tech to land a bowl invitation.
It might have been different had Tech not lost two of its top three skill-position players early -- running back Eric Stephens for half a season and wide receiver Darrin Moore for, in effect, eight games.
Tech needed to catch all the breaks this season. The Raiders were behind the eight ball, running out a young team at the same time many of their Big 12 opponents were in up cycles with experienced playmakers — Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State, Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles at Oklahoma, Collin Klein at Kansas State, Griffin and Kendall Wright at Baylor, Ryan Tannehill and his stable of running backs at Texas A&M.
There’s a reason Big 12 pollsters picked Tech to finish seventh in the conference this year. The Raiders are having to deal with the reality they’re not immune to a down season, just like even the best programs.