My degree from Texas Tech is a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Predictably, I’m a nerd when it comes to politics and government-related history. One phrase that permeates the group of political nerds in this country is “what’s the matter with Kansas?”
It’s the title of a 2004 book written by Thomas Frank, a Kansas-native who believes the citizens of Kansas vote against their best interests when going to the ballot box. To avoid this turning political at all, I’m not going to divulge my opinion on whether or not Frank is right, to what extent, or make any sort of a counterargument. That phrase “what’s the matter with Kansas?” has been altered and adapted to other situations since the book was published.
Texas Tech football fans probably wonder the same thing every year after we beat the Jayhawks: “what’s the matter with (us when we play) Kansas?”
It seems silly to complain about Texas Tech’s overall performance against Kansas. The Red Raiders are 16-1 all-time against the Jayhawks, their only loss coming on a 34-31 upset in 2001. Still, the now annual matchup is arguably the most underwhelming on the schedule each season when the dust settles.
In 2011, the year Texas Tech missed a bowl game for the first time in over a decade, Kansas got out to a 20-0 first quarter lead over Texas Tech. Eventually the Red Raiders woke up and won by an uninspiring score of 45-34 over a Jayhawks squad that was on their way to an 0-9 finish in Big 12 play.
The next year, Texas Tech struggled to put the Jayhawks away and ultimately won in double overtime. Other than the 42-35 win over Central Arkansas in 2014, it was the most disappointing victory I can remember. Kansas went 1-11 that season.
In 2013, Texas Tech entered Lawrence at 4-0 as one of a handful of teams in the country that had never trailed at any point in the season. The Red Raiders lost that distinction in the first quarter, getting shutout 10-0 before coming back to win 54-16. Kansas went 1-8 in the Big 12 in 2013.
In 2014, Texas Tech beat Kansas in underwhelming fashion yet again, 34-21. It was one of just four victories that season. Kansas again won just one Big 12 game that year. The 54,000 who showed up to Jones AT&T Stadium that October afternoon constituted the lowest attended Red Raiders football game since the 2012 home opener against Northwestern State.
And last year, Texas Tech was leading 23-20 with 4 minutes left in the game. Kansas went 0-12 last year.
It’s baffling that year in and year out, no matter how good Texas Tech is and no matter how bad Kansas is, the Red Raiders struggle to put them away early on and win by an impressive margin. In his aforementioned book, Frank illustrates his opinion that Kansas voters have shifted in how they vote by writing the following:
“Not long ago, Kansas would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay. This would have been a political certainty, as predictable as what happens when you touch a match to a puddle of gasoline.”
Switch a few words and it could read like this to Texas Tech fans like you and me:
“Not long ago, Texas Tech would have responded to Kansas’ poor record on the field by making the Jayhawks pay. This would have been a college football certainty, as predictable as what happens when one of the best offenses in the country meets the conference’s perennial doormat.”
Admittedly, I don’t know the conclusion to Frank’s question, “what’s the matter with Kansas?” I don’t know Texas Tech’s answer to the same question either. Is it the 11:00am kickoff that gets Tech off to a slow start? Is it the underwhelming crowd size in Lawrence and even in Lubbock that removes energy and excitement from the Red Raiders? I don’t know.
I do know that we should be able to throttle the Jayhawks Thursday night. As we have experienced by scraping by the last five years, a win against Kansas in and of itself is not impressive. But if Pat Mahomes can take off his helmet shortly after halftime and replace it with a Double T ball cap for the rest of the game, I’d say we’re taking a step in the right direction compared to years past.