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Saturday, October 25, 2008
Could Tech be the best suited to beat Texas?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- They are already breathlessly calling Texas Tech's game with Texas next week the biggest game in the history of the school.

 
 Douglas Jones/US Presswire
 Mike Leach's Red Raiders face a tall order in Texas next Saturday.

First place in the Big 12 South will be up for grabs in the battle between two 8-0 teams. And still, Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree isn't caught up in the excitement yet.

"I don't feel hype, I just see footballs," Crabtree said. "Whatever they say, I don't listen to it."

Crabtree's attitude, although rather simplistic, might be the reason why this Tech team is suited to slay the monster from Austin better than most of coach Mike Leach's recent teams.

The top-ranked Longhorns have beaten Tech six out of the seven times they have met under Leach. It almost seems like the Longhorns have gotten into the Red Raiders' head with the way they have dominated them along both sides of the line of scrimmage during the recent run.

Texas has averaged nearly 46 points in the last seven games against Tech, including 59, 35, 52 and 51 points in the last four games.

But if Tech can follow the formula that marked their 63-21 victory over Kansas on Saturday, the Red Raiders are the team best suited to beat the Longhorns among Big 12 challengers.

The Red Raiders have developed balance in their running game that will force Texas to play them honestly. And their massive offensive line has only allowed three sacks this season, meaning they should be better able to neutralize top Texas pass-rushers like Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle.

If Tech can protect Harrell, it will give them the best chance to pick on young Texas safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas -- particularly with game-breaking receivers like Crabtree and Eric Morris roaming through the secondary.

And on defense, the Red Raiders appear to be peaking. They have allowed only 23 points in the last six quarters. During a span of 19 defensive possessions, the Red Raiders have allowed only three scoring plays and forced six turnovers.

"My thought is that it's another team and we'll do the best job we can against them," said Crabtree, who played through a sprained ankle to provide a team-best nine receptions for 70 yards and two touchdowns. "It should be fun."

But the biggest reason why Tech appears ready for the Longhorns is because of a new mindset that has pervaded the team this season.

Leach likes to tell anybody who will listen that his team has the third-most victories in his coaching tenure -- more than any team other than Texas and Oklahoma. But his team has never won a South Division championship or made a Bowl Championship Series appearance despite a gaudy offensive resume.

During much of that time, the Red Raiders always seemed to stub their toe in an inexplicable upset.

In 2006, Tech dropped a 30-6 decision to Colorado after the Buffaloes had started the season 0-6. Their outside hopes for a BCS berth in 2005 were snuffed out by a 24-17 late-season loss at Oklahoma State that was the Cowboys' only Big 12 victory that season.

Tech dropped a 27-24 decision at New Mexico in 2004 against a Lobo team that started that season 2-4. And in 2001, the Red Raiders squandered a 34-31 home double-overtime loss to Kansas that was the Jayhawks' only Big 12 win that season.

"A lot of times, we would go through our schedule and say we ought to win this game or that one," Tech running back Baron Batch said. "And then some team would sneak up on us. I'm tired of that happening, Leach is tired of it happening and everybody else is, too. You guys are seeing the results of it."

This team appears to have played through that, earning it a chance to play in "the biggest game" even if their coach isn't buying the hype either.

"It's no bigger than the biggest game ever played anywhere," Leach said. "All of them leading up to it were pretty big, so this will make the next one big, I guess. We just need to do the same stuff, prepare well and see where it takes us."