Perhaps waiting to learn more information on the chances of red-shirt sophomore quarterback Michael Brewer having a healthy-enough back to make his season debut for Texas Tech, oddsmakers had not set a line on this coming Saturday morning’s game in Memorial Stadium as of Sunday night.
Once the line is released, it will show Texas Tech as the favorite against a Kansas University football team that has lost its last 21 Big 12 contests.
Before getting into why I think the streak ends and the upset takes place, let’s look at why it makes sense to position Texas Tech as the favorite.
First, when Kansas has the ball, Tech has a distinct advantage up front. The offensive line ranks among KU’s biggest weaknesses; Tech’s defensive line ranks among its greatest strengths. Kerry Hyder, the 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior from Austin, Texas, has a habit of exploding into opposing backfields and making things happen. He throws running backs and quarterbacks for losses, bats passes and generally makes his disruptive presence felt as well as just about any player in the Big 12. Forgive him if he starts salivating when watching film of KU’s inexperienced blockers. Ditto for talented senior linebacker Will Smith.
Shifting to when the Red Raiders (4-0) have the ball, the worrisome issue for KU becomes how to stop three pass-catching threats the likes of which the Jayhawks have not seen this season in games or practice.
Senior Eric Ward caught 12 passes for 180 yards vs. KU in Lubbock in 2012 and caught two touchdown passes in Lawrence two years ago.
Ward hasn’t even been Tech’s most productive wideout this season. Red Raiders junior Bradley Marquez spent his summer hitting and catching fly balls for the Kingsport Mets of the rookie Appalachian League.
Marquez has a TD reception in each of Tech’s four games and averages 15.8 yards a catch. And Texas Tech doesn’t even have to burn a scholarship on him because the Mets pay his college tuition.
A third-down monster, junior tight end Jace Amaro, 6-5, 260, leads the Red Raiders with 29 catches and 367 receiving yards. How can KU stop a target that big? A rib injury sidelined Amaro for six games, including against Kansas, last season.
Nearly a foot shorter, 5-6, 160-pound Jakeem Grant has big-play threat written all over him.
So with so much to worry about on both sides of the line of scrimmage and the Red Raiders carrying a No. 20 national ranking into the game, why pick an upset?
Two factors: Emotion is on KU’s side, and shaky quarterback play threatens to undermine a Tech team that has its fan base so stoked, talk of a 7-0 start runs rampant in Lubbock. (The Tech schedule has Iowa State at home and West Virginia on the road for the next two games).
A homecoming crowd supplies a bit of the emotional edge, but even more than that, KU’s players tasted breaking a long streak (22 losses in a row to FBS opponents) in their last game and aim to end the 21-game Big 12 losing streak.
In 2010, Colorado blew a 45-17 fourth-quarter lead, and Turner Gill’s Jayhawks won the game, 52-45. Dan Hawkins appeared to put a greater priority on padding his son Cody’s passing statistics with the school-yardage record in mind than on winning the game. Had Hawkins protected the lead by eating clock with a running strategy in the fourth quarter and held on to win, the KU Big 12 losing streak would stand at 33 games right now, instead of 21. As it stands, KU is 1-32 in its last 33 Big 12 games. The players are sick of reading numbers like that, and this is the week to do something about it.
So far, the Kansas defense, as is the case with Texas Tech’s, has exceeded expectations.
Tech has used two quarterbacks, both true freshmen. They have combined for eight interceptions. Thus far, the Red Raiders’ lone road game, against SMU, featured support nearly as loud for Tech as for the Mustangs. That won’t be the case Saturday in Memorial Stadium. Walk-on Baker Mayfield and four-star, hot-shot recruit Davis Webb have split time in Brewer’s absence. If Brewer can’t go, the smart guess has Webb starting. If he starts throwing the ball all over the place, Kansas is doing a better job of rushing the QB this season and has the cornerbacks to make Webb pay in Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd. Tech’s offensive line is young and shaky.
If Brewer, battling a bad back, is cleared to play, he’ll be running the offense of new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, 34, for the first time. He was efficient as a backup a year ago (34 for 48, 375 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions). If he is cleared to play, the upset chances weaken, but don’t vanish.