Tommy Tuberville took over as Texas Tech coach before the 2010 season, but after two seasons, he has yet to surpass the fewest regular season wins Mike Leach ever had in 10 years in Lubbock: seven.
Tuberville's eight-win 2010 season, capped by a win in the brand-new TicketCity Bowl, preceded a nightmarish 2011 campaign that featured just five wins, the first sub-.500 season in Lubbock in nearly two decades.
The 2011 season wasn't without its bright spots, though. The Red Raiders walked into Norman and became the first team to beat the Oklahoma Sooners at home in 39 games, a streak spanning over five years.
Then they met Iowa State, and nobody gave the Cyclones a chance.
"It was sort of a perfect storm for us in that they had just upset the No. 1-ranked team in the country and took it ‘em until about 4 or 5 in the morning to do it. Then they had to travel back and start a new week with that kind of sleep pattern and euphoria," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "That’s not good."
It wasn't good. By night's end, it was clear that Texas Tech was the team without a chance. Iowa State handed Texas Tech an embarrassing 41-7 loss that had the suddenly ranked Red Raiders causing plenty of folks around the country to scratch their heads.
It was the beginning of the end for Texas Tech, who didn't win a game the rest of the season and suffered losses of 32 and 60 points in the next two weeks.
Yet, here we are again. Texas Tech has racked up a spotless 3-0 record against an overmatched set of cupcakes, but it's time for the Red Raiders to prove last year was an abberation. The first step? Beating Iowa State on the road in the conference opener for both teams. Tuberville is 0-2 against his former defensive coordinator.
"By far this is our best team. The thing about college football is depth. You have to build depth. Everybody’s got to play at some point during the year when you’re taking about your first, second and usually third-level players on your team," Tuberville said. "We’ve barely had once since we’ve been here. We had about one and a half last year. This year, we’re closer to two deep at every position."
Even that weak nonconference schedule served a long-term purpose for the Red Raiders, who suffered an avalanche of injuries on both sides of the ball last year, racking an already thin team. The starters have played little, if at all, in the second halves of the Red Raiders first three wins. That game experience could prove valuable as the season progresses.
"We’re getting ready to start a nine-game stretch, and we need to call on a lot of the kids that are backups and maybe even true freshmen to possibly, like we did last year," Tuberville said. "What we’ve been doing is posture ourself in the last few weeks to get as many of those guys experience as we can."
Tuberville reeled in the two best recruiting classes in school history the past two seasons, and the common thread between both of them is clear: speed.
Speed on offense. Speed in the pass rush. Speed in the secondary. Speed at linebacker.
Freshman receiver Jakeem Grant has already made that speed evident, grabbing 10 balls for 106 yards in just three games. He's one of 13 Red Raiders with at least four catches this season, and six players already have at least 100 yards receiving.
Converted safety Terrance Bullitt and juco linebacker Will Smith offer more speed at linebacker.
The offense is back into a groove, ranking second nationally in total offense. That newfound speed and depth has helped the defense, though the schedule's been soft, rank No. 1 nationally in total defense, up a shocking 113 spots from a year ago.
It's finally in place. Now's the time to mature and prove Texas Tech is ready to climb back up the Big 12 ladder in the middle of a wide-open league.
"We’ve got more speed than we’ve had, and that usually makes up for a lot of mistakes you make in a ball game or a season. That’ll help us on our special teams," Tuberville said. "We’ve definitely got more athletes on both sides of the ball. Speed and athletic ability is definitely going to make us better, and if we can add some coaching to that, we might even be able to take a few steps past that."