Texas Tech searching for signature conference win

In Kliff Kingsbury’s maiden season as coach at Texas Tech two years ago, the Red Raiders jumped to a magical 7-0 record and top-10 ranking in the polls. The fast start, however, merely masked how shaky the foundation actually was in Lubbock. And since, the Red Raiders have gone 2-13 in the league, with the two wins coming over Kansas and Iowa State.

The foundation at Tech has proven to be much stronger in Kingbsury’s third season. The Red Raiders are deeper. They are far better in the trenches. They are explosive offensively. And while not dominant on defense, they are no longer a pushover, either. The Red Raiders took down Arkansas on the road and took fourth-ranked TCU to the wire last weekend before succumbing on a miraculous tipped touchdown reception.

Yet for all the progress shown this season, Kingsbury still must secure that elusive signature conference win before he can take Tech to the next level. Under Kingsbury, the Red Raiders are 1-8 against Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma and Texas, with the lone victory coming over the Horned Frogs in their first year in the Big 12 when they finished 4-8.

Saturday, after coming so close against TCU, the Red Raiders get another shot to land such a program-defining victory against the fifth-ranked Bears.

“We’ll keep grinding away at it,” Kingsbury said. “We don’t have some set date of when we reach where we’re trying to reach. We just try to keep getting better every day.”

It won’t be easy. The heartbreaking loss to TCU seemingly took a physical and emotional toll. Standout sophomore QB Patrick Mahomes has been day-to-day with an ankle injury. The Red Raiders also have to deal with the mental obstacle of playing three challenging games in consecutive weeks.

“Losing the way we did hurts,” said center Jared Kaster. “I feel like everyone left it out there on the field. But you can’t dwell on it. I still feel like this team is still confident, even though we did lose. You don’t see guys moping around. You see guys fired up. Fired up for the opportunity we have this weekend.”

The Red Raiders have played Baylor tough the past two seasons. Last year, Mahomes threw for almost 600 yards and six touchdowns and came a two-point conversion away from rallying Tech all the way back from a 25-point second-half deficit. It was a bright finish to an otherwise dismal 4-8 season.

This year, though, the Red Raiders say they are done with moral victories.

“Teams like Baylor, TCU, OU, Texas, we want to win those games,” said defensive end Branden Jackson. “We don’t want to be satisfied with playing people close.”

On their way to the top, Baylor and TCU used victories over the Sooners and Longhorns as their springboards. And where the Bears and Horned Frogs is where the Red Raiders aspire to be.

“Baylor and TCU are the reigning Big 12 champs,” Kingsbury said. “That’s what you're shooting for.

“You gotta take it from them. They’re not going to give you anything.”