Today we'll kick off a preseason feature that examines each team in the Big 12's "key stretch," or a string of games that will ultimately decide the fate of its season.
First up: the Red Raiders of Lubbock.
The schedule: Baylor (Oct. 9), Oklahoma State (Oct. 16), at Colorado (Oct. 23), at Texas A&M (Oct. 30)
The breakdown: Barring injuries, Texas and Oklahoma look likely to hold down the top two spots in the Big 12 South. But how the bottom four shake out could be a free-for-all with last year's second-place team, Oklahoma State, rebuilding. Meanwhile, Baylor is gunning for a bowl game and Texas A&M should join Tech as teams trying to crash the Sooners and Longhorns' Red River party at the top of the standings, where both were predicted to finish by the media in the preseason.
October will decide where Texas Tech finishes in the Big 12 South. I have them fourth in my preseason power rankings, and they'll probably need to run the table in the season's second month to climb higher.Tech would be on upset alert if they had to play in Waco, but it's hard to see the Bears marching into the Bermuda Triangle that is Jones AT&T Stadium and leaving with a win. Oklahoma State opens its conference schedule with games against the Aggies and Red Raiders sandwiched around Louisiana-Lafayette, but Texas Tech should have plenty of practice stopping the Air Raid. Oklahoma State won't show them--or anyone in the Big 12 South, really--anything they haven't seen yet, and if they can limit Kendall Hunter's effectiveness in the open field, keeping him under 100-150 total yards, it's going to be a lot easier to hold off the Cowboys. The two's defenses are similar, but Texas Tech has more talent and experience at both the offensive line and skill positions to beat Oklahoma State in Lubbock.
They'll need to play well to win at Colorado, but I'll take the Red Raiders by a touchdown in that game. To put it simply, Texas Tech's offense is better, and so is their defense.
Which brings them to their biggest game of the year, outside of the annual showdowns with Texas and Oklahoma. The Oct. 30 game at Kyle Field will probably decide third place in the Big 12 South, or possibly second place if either team steals a game from the Sooners or Longhorns.
Both defenses think they'll be better, but both may still be susceptible to the big play. Texas A&M needs to tackle better in the open field, and Texas Tech's free-wheeling blitzes are high-risk, high-reward, leaning slightly toward the former in Year 1 under Tuberville. The result could be the same for both defenses. Expect lots of points, but a few more for the Aggies.
The prediction: 3-1, with a loss at Texas A&M