Last season, college football analysts proclaimed Texas Tech had arrived after the Red Raiders upended then-No. 1 Texas, 39-33. And rightfully so; the Raiders won a pulsating game in spectacular fashion when their pair of Heisman candidates hooked up on the defining play of the season. In the process, the Raiders moved to 9-0 and into the national championship discussion. SI.com's Stewart Mandel stated the Raiders "legitimized" Mike Leach's program by winning "the biggest game in school history."
Ten months later, after sustaining significant personnel losses on both sides of the ball, Texas Tech finds itself back in a familiar position leading up to its annual matchup with Texas: a 17-point underdog.
"In their mind at Texas, they probably have bigger fish to fry," Leach said this week.
Still, ESPN's GameDay will travel to Austin, and ABC asked the teams to move the game from November to September in order to guarantee the clash would be played in the primetime Saturday slot. After last year's classic, this previously one-sided rivalry still has plenty of spice. It'd be hard to top last year's epic battle in Lubbock, but the Raiders have an opportunity to make another statement on Saturday night: that last year's victory was not a one-time thing.
1. How much will the revenge factor motivate Texas? According to Mack Brown and the Texas players this week, not at all. Brown insisted talking about last year's loss "is focusing on a negative. I don't like to focus on negatives."
Texas players wear wristbands with "We Are Texas" written on them, implying that no matter the opponent, no matter the situation, no matter how the BCS or the polls perceive them, the Longhorns remain focused on going out and playing their game. That's been the theme since the beginning of the year, as the coaching staff is doing its best to put last year's bitter BCS snub behind the program.
Plus, the Longhorns have learned its best not to dwell on past failures. In 2007, Texas had a chance to pay back Kansas State and Texas A&M for surprising losses in 2006 ... and ended up getting upset by the Wildcats and Aggies again. "Using revenge isn't some magic solution to winning a football game," Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley said this week.
2. Can Texas Tech's defense again slow down the Texas offense? Overlooked among the avalanche of big plays in last year's showdown was the Raiders' ability to slow down Colt McCoy and the Texas offense. In its first eight possessions, Texas managed just one drive longer than 14 yards, failed to score a touchdown and gave up a safety and interception return for a touchdown.
McCoy rallied the offense in the fourth quarter, but it ended up being too late. Texas Tech returns all three linebackers and defensive tackle Colby Whitlock, who dominated the Longhorns last year with eight tackles (including that safety). The Raiders defense has surrendered just 23 points in two games against undermanned North Dakota and Rice, but Texas will be a different story this week.
3. Is Taylor Potts ready for the national spotlight in his third start? Playing quarterback at Texas Tech has become one of the glamour positions in college football, because more likely than not the Raiders quarterback will find himself at the top of the national passing statistics at season's end. Texas Tech has led the nation in passing six of the last seven years, including last year under Graham Harrell.
Potts, a junior, had a so-so debut against North Dakota, but put up the familiar Texas Tech video game numbers in last week's 55-10 win over Rice. Potts threw for 456 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing top receiver Detron Lewis, who was injured early and whose status is uncertain for Saturday. Unlike the emotional Harrell, Potts possesses a calm demeanor which should serve him well in a difficult environment.
SI.com spoke with Rice co-defensive coordinator Chuck Dreisbach, who faced Texas Tech twice while on the Ole Miss defensive staff and twice while at Rice, including last week. Here's what he had to say about defending Texas Tech's offense and how it differs with Potts at quarterback:
They have been running the same system for a long time, so they just plug one guy in after another. When you see their pass attempts, it is almost two games worth of passes. One of their secrets is they usually have a massive offensive line and they do a great job of protection. The quarterback always seems to feel comfortable back there, like it is a seven-on-seven.
Taylor Potts has a great presence in the pocket. He doesn't get happy feet and he moves away from pressure with his eyes down the field. We hit him seven times and I think he completed all seven passes. He made some good throws while waiting to get hit.
I've faced a bunch of their quarterbacks. They all just sort of run that system to perfection. They are all very accurate. One thing that gets overlooked sometimes is they don't drop passes. Their receivers do a great job of catching the ball. It is not just the quarterback, it is the whole system.
Texas 38, Texas Tech 31. It took Texas two quarters to get rolling against Wyoming, and a similar slow start could put the Horns in a big hole this week. But they'll dig their way out. Texas may have found a new weapon in freshman tailback Tre' Newton, who was explosive against Wyoming and will serve as a nice complement to starter Vondrell McGee. McCoy should have a big day against the Raiders (he has thrown 10 TDs against them in his career), who will be tested for the first time this season. Potts will get his numbers, but the Longhorn-loyal crowd will prevent Texas Tech from making it two straight.