Managing unrelenting 11-game stretch critical for Texas Tech

No team in the Big 12 can match the challenge staring Texas Tech in the face.

As Texas and Oklahoma State move into bye weeks at the perfect time this weekend, Kliff Kingsbury’s program doesn’t have the same luxury. The Red Raiders are in the middle of brutal stretch of 11 straight weeks with a game, creating the most challenging schedule in the entire conference.

Fewer days off mean fewer chances for the Red Raiders to recover from the nagging injuries they’ve built up during the first six weeks of the season. And, it’s such an unusual schedule, it forces the Red Raiders to adjust practices and game prep schedules.

“We’re trying to work through the logistics of that,” Kingsbury said. “We’re just trying to adjust our schedule the best way we can to make sure our players stay fresh and excited to play football.”

Texas Tech is one of 12 FBS teams that will play 11 or more straight weeks without a bye and the only Big 12 team facing that schedule. To make matters worse, the Red Raiders Nov. 21 bye isn’t a normal bye week with Tech set to travel to Texas on Thanksgiving day, thus jump-starting their game-week preparations by two days and into the Nov. 21 weekend. For all intents and purposes, Kingsbury’s squad will play its entire schedule, three months, without a weekend off.

“You have to hope you stay healthy really,” Kingsbury said of the approach. “It’s tough, I think for the players and coaches, to not have any reprieve but I’ve seen it work both ways. You can get hot and not want a bye or there’s times you may be banged up and want one.”

Fortunately for Tech, Kingsbury has experience in a similar situation. When Kingsbury was offensive coordinator at Texas A&M in 2012, Hurricane Issac forced the Aggies to move their season opener against Louisiana Tech to mid-October. The schedule change forced the Aggies to play their entire regular season schedule without a bye week.

“I’ve been part of one where we got hot and it worked out,” Kingsbury said of the Johnny Manziel-led 2012 A&M squad that went 10-2 during the 12-game regular season without a break.

Led by Patrick Mahomes, the Red Raiders already have won as many games this season as they did a year ago. The star sophomore quarterback has helped Tech emerge from the first half of the stretch with a 4-2 record, bowl eligibility within their sights and in position to create havoc in the conference title race. But the schedule adds another obstacle to overcome on the road to Kingsbury’s second bowl in his first three seasons, even through Tech is already looking at its some of its toughest games — against No. 2 TCU and No. 3 Baylor — in the rearview mirror.

Games against Arkansas, TCU and Baylor in consecutive weeks have made the Red Raiders battle-tested, but the brutal 11-game stretch could tell us more about the Red Raiders than any game or opponent left on the schedule.

If the stretch is not managed well, road trips to Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia or home games against Oklahoma State and Kansas State will be tougher than they would have been otherwise. The daily grind of an unrelenting schedule could put the Red Raiders behind the eight ball before they even take the field.

“From week to week, depending on how we’re feeling and the pulse of our team, we’ll take pads off for a day or cut some periods out,” Kingsbury said. “At this point in the year you have to do some things to keep them fresh and excited to keep coming out there.”