Headed into 2017, there were rumors that head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s career was on the line in Lubbock. His team was coming fresh off a season where they graduated one of the best quarterbacks in school history, yet managed to finish 5-7. Additionally, the Red Raider defense had allowed an average of 43.5, 43.6, and 41.3 points per game the last three years under Kingsbury.
The head coach dedicated himself to spending more time with the defense, though, and that season the Red Raiders allowed only 32.2 points per game and led the conference with 18 turnovers. The offensive numbers dropped a bit, but the offense was still one of the best in the nation.
Still, for all of that improvement, Texas Tech narrowly managed to get bowl eligible via a comeback against Texas in Austin in their last game of the season. They would lose to the South Florida Bulls in their bowl game to post a losing record for the third time in Kingsbury’s tenure. The anticlimactic end to the season didn’t help those hot seat rumors go away.
Going into 2018, there’s a sense that Kingsbury only has so much time left to be the head coach in Lubbock. Most prognosticators expect the Red Raiders to finish in the bottom of the Big 12, despite a defense that seems headed in the right direction. How does Texas Tech’s schedule affect those expectations? Below we try to answer that question as we look briefly at the upcoming schedule for the Red Raiders.
Here wins and losses are broken down into “Highly Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner should be favored by more than two possessions – and “Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner will probably be favored by about two possessions. A “Toss Up” is any game that has a good chance of being decided by one possession.
2018 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
SEP 1 – Ole Miss*
SEP 8 – Lamar
SEP 15 – Houston
SEP 22 – at Oklahoma State
SEP 29 – West Virginia
OCT 11 – at TCU
OCT 20 – Kansas
OCT 27 – at Iowa State
NOV 3 – Oklahoma
NOV 10 – Texas
NOV 17 – at Kansas State
NOV 23 – Baylor*
*Neutral Site Game
HIGHLY LIKELY WINS: LAMAR
There’s only one game on the Red Raiders’ schedule that should be seen as a probable 20-point victory in Lubbock. For context, Lamar is an FCS school that was outscored by more than 40 points in their matchup against North Texas last season. Even if Texas Tech has difficulty getting to bowl eligibility this season, this should be comfortable win in the opener.
LIKELY WINS: KANSAS
The other game that Texas Tech should win is their home matchup against Kansas. The line for this game could feasibly grow to more than two touchdowns, especially given that it has been over 30 points in the past. The Jayhawks have kept this game close in recent history as well, though, so it’s reasonable to see this as a mere likely win.
TOSS-UPS: OLE MISS, HOUSTON, WEST VIRGINIA, TEXAS, BAYLOR
One reason Texas Tech has one of the harder schedules in the conference is the lack of games that are assured wins. There are five games on the slate for the Red Raiders that should be classified as Toss-Ups, and Texas Tech will more than likely need to win a majority of them to get to bowl eligibility.
The game between Ole Miss and Texas Tech has has been holding steady as a one point contest according to Vegas, and the line could settle either way in the opening week of FBS play. The Rebels have been around a .500 team the past couple of years, and under second-year head coach Matt Luke, they’ll be thought of as the same caliber of team in 2018.
Houston seemed to take a dip under first year head coach Major Applewhite last season, falling to a passable 7-5 in the regular season. Most outlets will see the Cougars as an average Division I football team, but with a returner starter at quarterback and a retooled offensive scheme, don’t be surprised to see them overachieve.
After losing at home to the Red Raiders last year, this game will still justifiably be seen as a close one, though, with Texas Tech possibly coming in as the home favorite.
The other three conference contests on this list are home games. The Red Raiders generally have an advantage in Jones AT&T Stadium, and they might be in line to pull off a couple of upsets at home. West Virginia and Texas will likely be favorites in those games, but these will be seen as close contests.
Every time Texas Tech plays Baylor, this game seems to turn into a shootout. The game could be even more intersting this season if both teams enter Arlington with bowl eligibility on the line. The Bears won only one game last season, but plenty of people think they can make a giant leap in 2018.
This game has been seen as a one possession matchup by Vegas the last two years, so if recent history is any clue, it’ll be tight once again.
LIKELY LOSSES: OKLAHOMA STATE, TCU, IOWA STATE, OKLAHOMA, KANSAS STATE
Of all of the teams on this list, Texas Tech was favored against only two of them in 2017 – Iowa State and Kansas State – and they lost both of those contests. Texas Tech played the Cylcones and Wildcats at home, an advantage that the Red Raiders won’t have this time around. In addition, Texas Tech hasn’t beaten either of these teams the past two years, so it’s entirely justifiable to project the point margin of those games as just beyond a touchdown.
Both teams from Oklahoma are likely to take somewhat of a step back in 2018, but how much will that help Kingsbury’s squad? The head coach in Lubbock hasn’t beaten either team during his time there, and even though the Red Raiders get Oklahoma at home, the Sooners will probably still be favored by double digits.
Since TCU entered the Big 12, the Red Raiders have been underdogs each time they took on the Horned Frogs. TCU is projected to possibly win the conference this season, so it’s justifiable to that this is a likely loss on the road.
HIGHLY LIKELY LOSSES: NONE
Historically, Texas Tech has been about a .500 football program, and under Kliff Kingsbury, they haven’t fallen well below or exceeded far beyond that mark. While there are some teams that would justifiably be seen as more than a two possession favorite over the Red Raiders, none of them appear on the lineup in 2018. Texas Tech will have a feasible chance to win many of the games they play this season, but those games could go the other way as well.
PREDICTED WINS: 5-6
This will be an interesting season for Texas Tech, especially given the continued conversations about Kliff Kingsbury’s job security. It’s hard to believe that the defense could actually be a strength for the Red Raiders, but it’s also difficult to believe that the offense might underperform. There are a lot of unknowns there, and that’s one reason why Texas Tech isn’t receiving more buzz.
There are also a lot of games that could easily tilt two different ways for the Red Raiders, and given Kingsbury’s 30-33 record at his alma mater, its reasonable to expect the Red Raiders to split those. Doing so would put them right between five and six wins on the season, so projecting that kind of win total seems appropriate.
All things considered, the Red Raiders could feasibly get to seven or eight wins in the regular season, but the month of September will be big for Texas Tech. A 1-4 start is very possible, and that would only ratchet up the hot seat rumors for Kingsbury. A 4-1 start is also there for the taking, and such a start would position the Red Raiders for their best season in years. Either way, we’ll know plenty about this team in about eight weeks.