- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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What’s it going to take for people to stop underestimating Kliff Kingsbury?
Texas Tech was picked seventh in the Big 12 this preseason, one year after the Texas A&M squad he helped run was picked sixth in the SEC West before the season began.
A&M was supposed to take it lumps in year one in the SEC. Didn’t happen. Texas Tech was perceived as still a rebuilding program. Except Kingbury has won 27 of the last 30 games he’s coached in.
He has the Red Raiders off to a 4-0 start that has players feeling bold enough to believe this: Why can’t we win the Big 12?
“It’s kind of crazy how much confidence he’s instilled in us and how confident he is in us and himself and the coaches,” Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro said. “That really helped us believe we can win every single game, no matter what the spread is or who we’re playing. We have the same mindset for each time.”
All the Red Raiders needed to believe this could be their year was a 20-10 victory over TCU on Sept. 12. Amaro said he can’t remember a bigger game in his past two season. The wild, passionate crowd that showed up that Thursday night was as good as any he’d witnessed in his career.
Playing in front of that crowd and giving them a win over a ranked foe reminded Amaro and his teammates just how much fun this is all going to be when they do ultimately get Tech where they want to be.
A look ahead at the schedule has most believing 7-0 is well within reach. The Red Raiders travel this weekend to Kansas, which has lost its last 21 Big 12 contests, and then take on Iowa State and West Virginia.
Seeing what West Virginia did against Oklahoma State, though, has Kingsbury reminding his players they can’t take the next three games for granted.
“We attack each and every week,” he said Monday. “We’re not good enough to look ahead like that.”
While Oklahoma and Baylor get talked up this week as the prohibitive favorites to win the conference, Texas Tech is happy to play the role of the dark horse. And this team might have a surprise on the way for the rest of the race.
Just what can Michael Brewer do for these Red Raiders? The sophomore quarterback is still recovering from a back injury suffered in fall camp, and Kingsbury said he’ll resume doing on-field work this week.
Winning four games with true freshmen Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb was an admirable feat, and TTU coaches are sticking with Mayfield this week as the starter. The return of Brewer, though, could still be a wild card against conference teams that haven’t seen him play much.
“Every time he was in last season as the backup, he scored touchdowns,” Amaro said. “He brings a different vibe to this team. He’s really relaxed and ready to go, and he makes great decisions and is a really great leader. He’s itching to get back out here. We can’t wait until he can come back. It’s going to make our offense that much better.”
Brewer threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns in occasional work backing up Seth Doege in 2012, but 70 percent of his attempts came in nonconference games to start the season.
It’s hard to know how this will play out when Brewer is cleared to play, but right now it’s a luxury for the Red Raiders. They’ve won without him, and if he gives Tech the best chance to win of its three passers, even better.
Whoever is running the show, Amaro is confident this offense is just scratching the surface of what it can be.
“We’re being really basic right now, running basic plays and plain routes,” he said. “It’s not hard concepts or anything like that. We’re saving a lot of stuff for this conference period. Once we really start getting going and in a rhythm, we have seven straight weeks of games and I think we’ll really take off.”
Just know that this initial success does not come as a surprise to Tech players. This is simply what they expected. They’re out to win the Big 12.
“At the beginning of the year, so many people thought we were foolish and didn’t know why we were thinking that,” Amaro said. “Every week, we have a point to prove. Like you said, Oklahoma and Baylor are the favorites. We’re getting put to the side. We’re going to go out there every single week like we’ve got something to prove. Eventually, we’re going to meet up with those guys.”