Welcome to the Big 12 Weekly Must-Win.
In this series, we’ll evaluate which Big 12 program is faced with a must-win game each week based on a variety of circumstances — recent record, upcoming schedule, the timeliness and impact a loss will have on the rest of the season, and other factors.
This week’s spotlight focuses on a program fighting to reach bowl eligibility and keep its coach in town — Texas Tech.
There was a time earlier in the season in which Texas Tech was 4-1, ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll, and seemingly on the cusp of the turnaround it’s longed for under the tutelage of Red Raiders legacy and coach, Kliff Kingsbury.
But of course, Texas Tech’s season has since taken a turn for the worse — one eerily similar to Kingsbury’s debut season in 2013, in which his Red Raiders fizzled to an 8-5 finish after a 7-0 start.
This time around, Texas Tech has fallen from 4-1 to 5-6, and depending on how things play out against the Texas Longhorns, it’s quite possible Friday proves to be Kingsbury’s final appearance as the Red Raiders coach.
“It just comes with the territory,” Kingsbury said of the noise surrounding his job security during his teleconference this week. “You focus on what you can control and you focus on making sure your players are having a great experience and getting ready for the game.
“We want to extend our season for those seniors and that’s our total focus. I think in this profession if you start looking at other things outside of that game that week, that’s when you get yourself in trouble.”
Is there still time for Kingsbury and Texas Tech to make amends? Well, that remains to be seen, but with Friday presenting the opportunity for a sixth win, the Red Raiders can not only reach bowl eligibility, but afford themselves a chance at a resilient finish to a winning season if Texas Tech can build on that momentum in the postseason.
The issue at hand, though, is for all of that to prove true, a Texas Tech team that’s trending in the wrong direction will have to win on the road against a Texas squad that’s seemingly found its stride. After falling to 3-4 following back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the Longhorns have won three of their last four. Furthermore, after stealing a 48-45 victory in Austin in 2015, Texas Tech is just 1-3 against Texas, and the odds aren’t in the Red Raiders’ favor to increase that to 2-3.
According to ESPN’s FPI, Texas Tech owns just a 25.4 percent win probability, and a failure to come out on top would mean a second consecutive 5-7 finish, and quite likely the end of the Kingsbury era.
Now more than at any point this season, with its coach’s future and bowl eligibility hanging in the balance, Texas Tech quite simply must win.