Friday, November 21, 2008

Party Like It's 1942?

No one needs to remind Mike Leach and his Texas Tech Red Raiders just how big Saturday night's game at Oklahoma is. Beyond being the BGISH, there are even more historic implications.

A victory clinches the Big 12 South title for the Red Raiders. But more importantly, it puts No. 2 Texas Tech two wins away - home to 4-7 Baylor and 9-2 Missouri in the Big 12 title game - from a spot in the BCS championship game.

Just how big a deal is that? Let's put it this way: If the Red Raiders win the BCS title this year, it would be the biggest transformation of a program since Ohio State won it all.

In 1942. Paul Brown's second season as the Buckeyes' coach.

Before this season, the Red Raiders have never finished in the top 10 of the AP poll. Ever. The best final AP poll showing for Texas Tech is 11th, in 1938 and 1973. So in terms of college football pedigree, Texas Tech has none.

Every AP national champion in the last 65 years has either won a title before or finished in the top 10 of the AP poll at least once. Programs typically don't go from mediocre or worse to national champion overnight.

Make no mistake, Leach has been building a program since taking over in 2000 from Spike Dykes - who laid a good foundation. Texas Tech has gone to a bowl game every year since Leach took over and is the only school to finish with a winning record every year since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996. But nothing in Tech's recent history even remotely suggested such a meteoric rise.

Texas Tech, typically, would win a big game here and there, but could never string them all together in the same season. It's beaten Texas or Oklahoma before, but never in the same season. So they could make history Saturday night in improbable fashion - sort of like America electing a black man president (hey, wait a minute, that's already done!).

But the Red Raiders are not doing this with smoke and mirrors. They happened to be good. Damn good. There is not a better quarterback-receiver tandem in football than Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. The once-maligned defense has given up 30 points just twice - and considering Tech has scored at least 35 points in every game, that's good enough. They even run the ball a little bit, averaging 126 yards a game. And their walk-on kicker has not missed anything inside 40 yards.

A loss to No. 5 Oklahoma, though, could prove devastating. Even if the Red Raiders finish in a three-way tie with OU and Texas for the Big 12 South title, it's unlikely that they'd prevail on a tiebreaker based on the BCS standings. Not winning the division also probably will keep them from their first BCS bowl invitation. And for sure, there won't be a Heisman Trophy for either Harrell or Crabtree. The tumbleweeds will swirl back to Lubbock.

Yeah, just how big is this game for Texas Tech?

The Texas Tech-Oklahoma 8 p.m. ET prime time shootout, however, hardly is the only Saturday game with BCS implications. While a few traditional rivalry games might have lost some luster (yes, I'm talking to you, Michigan), a few others have the blood boiling just a few degrees hotter.

No. 14 Brigham Young at No. 7 Utah, 6 p.m. - They call this the Holy War not because these Utahans feel warm and fuzzy about each other. Especially not this year, not with 9 million bucks on the line. A Utes victory clinches a BCS bowl berth for Utah and a big payday for the Mountain West Conference (and yes, BYU gets 1/9 of that pot). A Cougars win gives them a shot at the big money pot - but not without a Boise State loss in its final two games. Ten of the last 11 games in this series were decided by 7 points or less, the lone exception was 2004, when the Utes became the first non-BCS team to play in a BCS bowl.

No. 9 Boise State at Nevada, 4 p.m. - While the Broncos need a Utah loss to have a shot at their second BCS bowl appearance in three years, they had better not overlook Nevada. The 6-4 Wolf Pack held Texas Tech to its lowest scoring output of the season in a 35-19 loss and have scored at least 41 points in six of their last seven games. Last year, it took the Broncos four overtimes to subdue Nevada, 69-67, in the highest scoring game in Division I-A history.

No. 15 Michigan State at No. 8 Penn State, 3:30 p.m. - The Rose Bowl representatives are pretty torn about this. A Penn State win could set up a potential Penn State-Oregon State rematch in Pasadena. A Michigan State victory hands the Big Ten crown to Ohio State, which might mean an Ohio State-USC rematch. The idiot Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio says he'd root for the Buckeyes, even though a Michigan victory gives the Spartans their only chance for a Rose Bowl berth (then again, high IQ is not a pre-requisite for State, so no surprise there).

No. 21 Oregon State at Arizona, 7 p.m. - The Beavers are two wins away from an improbable Rose Bowl appearance, their first since the 1965 game - something that entered virtually no one's mind when they upset then-No. 1 USC on Sept. 25. But they're no cakewalk, though. Besides next week's Civil War against Oregon, the Beavers must win at Arizona, whose only home loss this season was a 17-10 battle against the Trojans. Oregon State, on the other hand, has yet to beat a team with a winning record on the road this season.

No. 20 Pittsburgh at No. 19 Cincinnati, 7:15 p.m. - A victory puts the Bearcats within reach of their first Big East title and BCS bowl appearance - with just a conference home game against lowly Syracuse left. Cincinnati has played in bowl games the last two years, but this time, it could be just a little more auspicious than the or International variety. A Pittsburgh win potentially sets up next week's Backyard Brawl as a winner-take-all.

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