Almost lost in the chaos of the last ten days and all the talk of impending conference realignment is the fact that we are now just about a month from the start of another Texas Tech football season. And 2021 is shaping up to be one of the most important seasons in recent history for the Red Raiders.
First of all, let’s address the false notion that what happens on the field this year is going to in any way impact what happens with Texas Tech’s future as far as conference affiliation goes. Rather, this round of conference realignment is going to center around money and what each institution can potentially bring to a conference in terms of eyeballs on television sets and subscriptions to streaming platforms.
Don’t agree? Think about the fact that Iowa State finds itself in as precarious of a position as Tech despite the Cyclone’s recent run of on-field success. What’s more, many people believe Kansas is more likely than in-state rival Kansas State to be in a safe place when the music stops despite the fact that the Jayhawk football program is arguably the worst in the FBS.
Therefore, even if Tech were to haul off an improbable 10-win season this fall, that won’t sway the outcome of the impending conference merry-go-round. So why is this year so important? Because it could very well determine the fate of Red Raider head coach Matt Wells.
Coming off of consecutive 4-win seasons to open his tenure at the helm in Lubbock, most believe that Wells must reach a bowl game this season in order to save his job. If he doesn’t achieve that not-so-lofty goal and is fired, it will signal yet another coaching transition for the program and that’s far from what Tech needs as it would mean the program would be under the guidance of a fourth head coach since 2010, which is not a recipe for success.
So if Tech’s most humble goal is to get to six wins in the regular season, there are four games that the Red Raiders must win in order to give themselves a chance at seeing the postseason. And this year’s first must-win arrives right off the bat.
Some years, Tech opens the season with a game that is nothing but a glorified scrimmage against an FCS opponent. But some years, Tech opens with a true test as is the case in 2021 when the Red Raiders travel to Houston to face the University of Houston Cougars in week one.
That’s a game that most believe will be a toss up but it’s one that Tech simply must put in the win column. Dropping this game to Houston would mean that to get to six wins, Tech would have to capture at least four conference wins to get to bowl eligibility this fall. That’s something that this program has not done since 2015 and has done only once in the last seven years.
What makes this game potentially tricky is the fact that Tech will be breaking in a new starting QB (Tyler Shough) against a Cougar team returning nine defensive starters. That’s not going to give Shough and the offense any time to ease into the season and work out any early kinks.
On offense, the Cougars will be looking for their QB, Clayton Tune, to have a breakout season. Coming into 2021 with 15 starts under his belt, he has thrown for over 4,000 career yards and 34 TDs. But he’s also been picked off 21 times showing that he’s yet to fully come into his own as a passer.
This could be a defensive battle as the two offenses in this game have plenty of questions to answer (Houston lost its top two WR from last year) this fall and typically those answers don’t come right away in week one. What’s more, we know that when Houston plays a Big 12 opponent, especially one from the state of Texas, they raise their intensity level to usually make up for any potential lack of talent or depth.
This will be only the second time since 2013 that Tech has opened the season against an FBS team with the other coming in 2018 against Ole Miss. That game also took place in Houston and resulted in a 20-point loss for Tech. If the Red Raiders don’t get off to a better start in 2021, Wells’ fate this year could mirror that of Kliff Kingsbury in 2018.