OSU plays at Texas Tech on Saturday in a game that will stamp the Cowboys as a Big 12 title contender or knock them from the conference race. And the same is true of Tech.
OSU is largely untested. So was Texas Tech, until last Saturday, when the Red Raiders lost 38-30 at OU.
Now Tech is ranked 15th, OSU 18th.
A recurring theme from last week was whether Tech was overrated. The Red Raiders were 10th in the BCS, despite having played a weak schedule. Tech beat TCU when the Horned Frogs were ranked 24th, early in the season, but TCU has proven to be a fraud and the rest of Tech’s schedule is woeful. Tech figured to be 6-1 at worst when it went to Norman. Instead, Tech was 7-0 and in the top 10.
If you’re trying to gauge OSU’s hopes this Saturday – or Tech’s, for that matter – then it’s of interest to determine if the Red Raiders or Cowboys indeed are overrated.
Clearly, OSU is overrated at 18th. The Cowboys don’t have a quality win; the victory over Mississippi State has lost its luster as the Bulldogs have slumped into mediocrity. Tech really doesn’t have a quality win, either.
But the notion of whether Tech was overrated last week has drawn my interest. How would we determine if a team that has taken advantage of an easy early schedule is a bonafide team or just the recipient of easy pickings?
In any other words, is there something revealing about going 7-0, even if it’s against a schedule that any solid team likely would navigate at 7-0? Even if the schedule is easy, does going 7-0 portend future success, even as the schedule stiffens?
Here’s what I did. I went back through 2008 and found any major-conference team that started at least 6-0 but did not defeat a top-20 team. How did those teams do?
The evidence suggests that Texas Tech is headed for a good finish.
I found 10 teams that fit the criteria. Three of the 10 were completely exposed. Mediocre teams that took advantage of a cushy early schedule. But six of the teams had excellent years, and one had a good year, depending on how you judge it.
Here are the teams:
2012 Mississippi State: The Bulldogs started 7-0 but beat no ranked teams in getting there. Still, they were ranked 11th. Mississippi State finished 8-5 and lost to all four ranked teams it played. The Bulldogs finished the year with a 34-20 loss to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. They were not among the 36 teams that received votes in the final AP poll.
2011 Georgia Tech: The Yellowjackets rose to 12th in the AP poll after going 6-0 with no victory over ranked teams. Then Georgia Tech lost to unranked Virginia and unranked Miami. The Jackets finished 8-5 with a 30-27 overtime loss to Utah in the Sun Bowl. They did not receive a vote in the final AP poll; 34 other teams did.
2011 Illinois: The Illini started 6-0, and despite no victories over a top-20 team, rose to 16th in the AP poll. But Illinois then lost six straight, including verdicts to 19th-ranked Penn State, 24th-ranked Michigan and 17th-ranked Wisconsin. Then Illinois beat UCLA 20-14 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to finish 7-6.
2012 Oregon: The Ducks went 8-0 against a schedule that included no top-20 team. Oregon then beat No. 17 Southern Cal. But the Ducks lost to No. 13 Stanford and eventually finished 12-1 with a victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon finished No. 2 in the AP poll.
2011 Stanford: The Cardinal went 9-0 before it played a top-20 team and rose to fourth in the BCS. Then Stanford lost to No. 7 Oregon. The Cardinal eventually lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 7 in the final AP poll.
2011 Michigan: The Wolverines went 6-0 and played no ranked foes but rose to 11th in the AP poll. Then the Wolverines lost to No. 23 Michigan State. Michigan eventually beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and finished 11-2, with a No. 12 finish in the AP poll.
2010 Oklahoma State: The Cowboys started 6-0 with no victories over a ranked foe but were 14th in the BCS. Then OSU lost 51-41 to No. 16 Nebraska. The Cowboys finished 11-2, beating Arizona 36-10 in the Alamo Bowl and finishing No. 13 in the final AP poll.
2008 Penn State: The Nittany Lions started 8-0 playing no top-20 foe but rising to third in the BCS. Then they won 13-6 at No. 9 Ohio State. But Penn State lost 24-23 at Iowa, then lost to Southern Cal in the Rose. The Nittanys finished eighth in the final AP poll.
2008 Texas Tech: The Red Raiders went 8-0 without playing a top-20 opponent. Then Tech beat No. 1 Texas and rose to No. 2 in the BCS. But the Red Raiders lost 65-21 to No. 5 OU and eventually finished 11-2 after a Cotton Bowl loss to Ole Miss. Tech finished 12th in the final AP poll.
YOU MAKE THE CALL
2010 Missouri: The Tigers started 6-0 and rose to 11th in the BCS, despite playing no ranked foe. Then Mizzou beat No. 1 Oklahoma and rose to sixth. Then Missouri lost back-to-back games at Nebraska and Texas Tech; the Tigers finished 10-3 with a loss to Iowa in the Insight Bowl. They finished 18th in the final AP poll.
So what to make of 2012 Texas Tech?
It seems unlikely that the Red Raiders are headed for a great season. Of the teams on this list that went on and had great years, Oregon 2012 and Stanford 2011 were coming off BCS bowl seasons already, so they had cachet built up. But Michigan 2011 had been mediocre (at best) three straight years. Oklahoma State 2010, Penn State 2008 and Texas Tech 2008 had been solid but not spectacular the previous two years. Same with Missouri 2010.
Among the frauds, Illinois 2011 had a collective losing record over the previous three years; Mississippi State 2012 had gone 7-6, 9-4 and 5-7 the previous three years; and Georgia Tech 2011 had gone 6-7, 11-3 and 9-4.
Texas Tech (2013) has gone 8-5, 5-7, 8-5 the previous three seasons. So in that regard, the Red Raiders are most like Mississippi State 2012. The Red Raiders certainly don’t want a repeat of 2012 Mississippi State. The Red Raiders also have the same kind of recent pedigree as Michigan 2011 and, oh, Missouri 2010. Tech would love the former and would call the latter a good year.
We’ll find out more Saturday, when the Red Raiders will offer more clues on whether or not they’re overrated.