ARLINGTON — The Texas Tech Red Raiders now have theirs — stretch of embarrassing play, crisis period, crossroads, pick your description.
During the Big 12 era, Tech fans got to revel in the miseries of neighborhood rivals Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State, even Texas and Oklahoma — all since the Red Raiders last endured a sustained period of really bad football.
No two ways around it, Tech played some incredibly bad football over the past month, crashing to final records of 5-7 and 2-7 in the Big 12. Five straight losses since late October — two in which the Red Raiders allowed more points than ever — have plunged the program into an offseason full of questions and doubt.
The question is how to get back on track before this time next year. The essential nature of that task can’t be understated. Unlike the aforementioned heavyweights such as UT and OU, who can fall back on greater resources, the climb back from a sub-.500 season will always be a riskier proposition for the Red Raiders.
Tommy Tuberville’s year three in Lubbock has to show a major improvement over the disastrous second half of the 2011 season. The Red Raiders will return nearly all their key players, and at an important time in the cycle relative to the personnel of other Big 12 teams. Rivals such as Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor will lose some all-America-caliber talent at the skill positions, and Tech has to be ready to take advantage of that pendulum swing.
Few of the Red Raiders’ seniors filled major roles. More than how to replace the seniors,
Tech’s bigger worries center on whether running backs Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington make successful comebacks from knee injuries — and how soon.
That, and what can be done with a defense that gave up a school-record 471 points.
First-year defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow took responsibility for the mess.
How does he fix it?
“It’s the same thing I told our kids in the locker room as soon as we finished playing,” he said. “I appreciate the heck out of what the seniors have done for this group and what they’ve meant to this group. But we as a football team have got to go start getting better, and it starts Monday whenever we get back and throughout the offseason. We’ve got to go get bigger, stronger and faster and go become the toughest football team in the country.”
Glasgow’s task this season wasn’t easy, considering he took over a struggling defense, put in a new system and was teaching everyone involved. Not only was he teaching his players the 4-2-5, but — since he came in solo — his defensive assistants didn’t have 4-2-5 backgrounds.
That being the case, it’d be unfair for him not to get a year two to see what he can do. And Tuberville will have a year three.
Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt, after the Raiders’ 66-6 loss to Oklahoma State and again after a 66-42 loss Saturday to Baylor, said he’s not inclined to make major shakeups.
Next year, though, all involved have to expect better results.
Mike Leach’s Tech program turned the corner in year three. In 2000 and 2001, the “Air Raid” had hardly earned its nickname. In 2002, Kliff Kingsbury threw for 5,000 yards, the team won nine games, and the Raiders’ fortunes took off.
Art Briles’ third year at Baylor was when he ended the Bears’ 15-year bowl drought.
Oklahoma State went from fifth in the Big 12 South and a tie for fifth in Mike Gundy’s first two years to a tie for third in year three, setting the stage for four years in a row with at least nine wins.
Though the encore season was a letdown, Mike Sherman’s year three at Texas A&M was when the Aggies won six straight conference games to end the regular season and share a division title.
As the Red Raiders left the field Saturday night, such scenarios of a big step forward in 2012 might have seemed farfetched. But they can’t afford not to make a major improvement in Tuberville’s third year their reality.