The toughest part of Texas Tech’s football schedule starts now: four Big 12 Conference title contenders, three of them ranked, in the last five games of the season.
That’s OK with Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, because he now has a top-10 team that he believes has plenty of room to grow, even after a 7-0 start.
“I told our team, ‘We haven’t come close to playing our best game,’” Kingsbury said Saturday after Tech posted a 37-27 road victory at West Virginia. “So hopefully we can put one of those together before the year is out and see what we can do.”
With several ranked teams getting knocked off on Saturday, Tech debuted at No. 10 in the first BCS standings of the season released Sunday and took a jump in the major polls. The Red Raiders moved to No. 10 in The Associated Press Top 25 and to No. 9 in the USA Today coaches poll — up six spots in both from a week ago.
The lofty perch will be tested when conference leader Tech (7-0, 4-0 in the Big 12) visits No. 17 Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The Sooners are a 7-point favorite.
“We feel like we owe them,” said Tech running back Kenny Williams, who scored two touchdowns Saturday. “They came to our house last year, took it from us and we want to do the same.”
Tech’s perfect record nearly ended on the Red Raiders’ first visit to West Virginia. In a back-and-forth game, Tech led 13-0 early, let WVU mount a 27-3 salvo, then rallied with the last 21 points of the game.
The most surprising element might have been Tech’s defense, solid through six games, giving up three touchdowns and two field goals in a five-series stretch in the second and third quarters.
“They needed to see some adversity,” Kingsbury said. “This is the first time a team has moved the ball that well against them. But when we had to have stops, they got them, so that was a big step.”
In a drastic turnaround, Tech limited West Virginia to one first down in its last five possessions, immediately after the stretch in which the Mountaineers scored on five series in a row. The Red Raiders forced four quick punts — three after three-and-outs — and a turnover on downs as time ran out.
Afterward, they were commending themselves for their composure.
“If things hit the fan again, we know how to respond,” cornerback Bruce Jones said.
Tech’s last five games are against teams who are a collective 23-8. The Red Raiders’ 7-0 start has been built against six teams that now have losing records and Texas State, which is 4-3.
One of the keys to the fast start has been the play of true freshmen quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, who started the first five games, and Davis Webb, who’s started the last two. Between them, they have 2,915 passing yards — split almost equally — and 19 touchdowns.
The injury Mayfield suffered two weeks ago gave Webb a chance to take over and, even though Mayfield was in full uniform Saturday, Webb has made the most of the opportunity. He topped 400 yards passing for the second game in a row, his one glaring mistake a lost fumble at the WVU 1-yard line.
In 106 pass attempts the last two weeks, he’s had one intercepted.
“The more reps he gets, it seems the better he gets and the more confidence he gets,” Kingsbury said. “He’s gotten a ton of reps with the injury situation. He just gets better and better. I’m just really proud of him overcoming (not winning the job at) the beginning of the year and not getting down. That’s what you’re supposed to do as an athlete.”
Follow Don on Twitter