As the 2012 college football season approached, many fans and pundits alike pointed to Texas Tech’s seventh game, a road clash against new Big 12 Conference member TCU, as a contest it may need to win to have a shot at bowl eligibility later in the season.
But after a 56-53 triple-overtime victory against the Horned Frogs on Saturday in Fort Worth, that contest became the one that actually allowed the Red Raiders to check that item off the to-do list.
It’s a list that is becoming more ambitious with each passing week.
“A lot of people counted us out,” said Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, whose 6-1 team (3-1 in Big 12) moved to No. 15 in the most recent Associated Press poll.
“We’re a little better team, probably, than what people thought. We’re not finished yet,” he said.
Picked to finish ninth in the Big 12 by the media in the league’s preseason poll, Tech on Saturday became the conference’s second team to gain bowl eligibility (Kansas State). That’s enough to qualify the Red Raiders, 5-7 and postseason absent a season ago, as one of college football’s biggest surprises, joining the likes of Oregon State and Kansas State, Tech’s upcoming opponent.
It also has outsiders forecasting brighter horizons than many envisioned at the beginning of the season. Jerry Palm, who projects all the college bowl games weekly for CBSSports.com, now predicts the Red Raiders to earn the Big 12’s seat in the Cotton Bowl.
Tech quarterback Seth Doege, derided by some just a few weeks ago after a poor performance against Oklahoma, began showing up on various Heisman Trophy forecasting lists following his seven-touchdown performance Saturday — Doege leads all Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks with 28 touchdown passes this season — which included three scoring throws in the overtime periods.
“He didn’t blink,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of Doege. “We struggled, especially there in the third quarter, and he didn’t blink. He never lost confidence, and it’s a sign of his maturity. He’s a great kid, and he made a lot of big plays.”
While those outside the locker room may be scratching their heads at Tech’s success more than halfway through the season, the Red Raiders insist this strong start doesn’t surprise them.
It doesn’t satisfy them either.
“We’ve been preaching to take it to the next level,” said Doege, who threw the 8-yard game-winner to close friend and fellow senior Alex Torres. “We’re going to continue to build upon what we want to accomplish, and that’s a Big 12 championship.”
With five games remaining on its schedule, Tech controls its own destiny in that quest. The toughest potential road block comes at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Red Raiders visit No. 4 Kansas State, fresh off a 55-14 win at West Virginia.
The Wildcats (7-0, 4-0) — led by the latest Heisman frontrunner, quarterback Collin Klein — have high aspirations of their own, namely a trip to the BCS national title game.
“They get tougher as we go,” Tuberville said. “We don’t have time to sit around and celebrate.”
The Red Raiders won’t be predicted to win the game against Kansas State, opening as touchdown underdogs. Then again, that hasn’t seemed to bother them to this point.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” safety Cody Davis said. “We’re where we want to be, but we have to put (the TCU win) behind us and just keep working toward our goal.”
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