Texas Tech's window of opportunity is here

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Texas Tech cornerback L.A. Reed has been around the Red Raider program long enough to know about the predominant public perception about his team.

The Red Raiders are the only Big 12 team to be bowl-eligible in every season in the conference's history. But a frustrating knack of stumbling against lesser opponents has kept the Red Raiders from ever qualifying for a BCS bowl game or winning a Big 12 title.

Tech hasn't won an outright conference championship since winning the Border Conference in 1955 and hasn't won 10 games in a season since 1976.

"I've been here for four years and we were right there about winning the Big 12. And we always lost a game to mess it up," Reed said. "This year, we don't have any excuses."

With a talented array of returning players led by Heisman Trophy candidates Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree, the Red Raiders have been the boys of summer -- at least in terms of preseason publicity.

Tech was ranked 14th in the preseason USA Today coaches' poll -- its highest preseason ranking in 31 seasons -- and cracked the top 10 in several preseason magazines. But in order to fulfill those lofty expectations, the Red Raiders will have to bring a different attitude than in previous seasons.

Last year, Tech fell out of the South Division race with a crushing streak of three losses during a four-week period after starting 5-1. Losses at Missouri and Texas weren't really surprises, but a home loss to Colorado was.

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 loss 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

"In the past, we've been known to come up with one or two big victories a year that we shouldn't get and then turn around the next week and lose a game that most people think there's no way we should have lost," Tech inside receiver Eric Morris said. "We're just trying to stay on more of an even keel this season."

Although expectations are shooting through the roof around the Tech program, coach Mike Leach says his outlook hasn't changed despite this season's lofty goals.

"I've never coached a game in the Big 12 that, before the game started, I didn't think we were going to win," Leach said. "Our expectations are already high. So what that means to me is that we just have to ignore expectations and everybody needs to do their job."

And the preseason hype, Leach says, hasn't affected his coaching style or his demeanor.

"You do the best you can every day," he said. "That's all anybody can do. I don't feel any pressure."

Leach has been a consistent during his time coaching the Red Raiders. Tech has never won less than seven games or won more than nine games in his eight previous seasons at the school. But whether the Red Raiders can take the next step and become a BCS challenger remains to be seen.

"Everybody thinks about Texas Tech, they always think we'll have that stumble somewhere," Reed said. "We've got to push through that. We've got everything we need. We just need to prove everybody wrong this year."