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Even though the Red Raiders won’t be wearing their bowling shoes, there is still work to be done

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Without bowl eligibility to play for, what does this game mean for a program in free fall?

Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

This has been my least favorite Texas Tech football season ever. For one, it has been a huge failure by any standard. Maybe you are someone who believes that coming close to winning a few games counts as a moral victory. I would disagree, but the point of this article doesn’t depend on that debate. I will say when it comes to football I believe in the “close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades” philosophy.

What makes this season even worse to me personally, I was very confident this team would make a bowl game. With that hope now crushed, the Red Raiders head to the state capital for a date with the Longhorns.

The apathy of fans is apparent with the embarrassing turn out for a critical game against Kansas State, and I am guessing there are some more fair-weather fans wondering if they should care at all about this game with zero influence on the bowl picture.

The answer, my friends, is unequivocally yes.

There are a number of reasons for why this game matters, but first and perhaps most importantly, this game is all about culture. I have recited a similar line for several weeks now: “If Wells wants to flip the script, it has to happen right now,” and we have lost plenty while I have been saying it. The reason why I keep harping on that is, for a program in dire straits, little victories can stop the bleeding. A program like Tech that is in such a deep rebuild thrives off the little victories. Winning a meaningless game is one of those little victories to build off of.

For the last few weeks, it was critically important to get those extra bowl practices. The extra practices were something Wells accredited his Utah State turnaround too, and for a team that needs to learn how to win, it is more opportunities for coaching. But now, this is a mental toughness week. I no longer believe Texas is better than Tech, so this game will come down to who wants it more. Neither team is playing for anything of importance, with Texas playing for just a different mediocre bowl game and Tech not playing for one at all.

Kingsbury rarely was able to rally the troops for these kinds of games. Matt Wells preaches the importance of a culture change, and this win would be a massive one. The disgustingly close losses have been reason enough for some fans to celebrate what is to come. But to me, I have seen a lot of the same from this football team that I saw under Kliff. An undisciplined team that battles but is unable to keep it together when it matters most leading to dumb decisions and tough to process losses.

I don’t feel like that is a controversial claim, but in case it is, allow me to explain. Tech’s season is disappointingly similar to last season. The Ole Miss and Kansas State losses match well to the team falling to Arizona and Kansas State last year. Tech was less competitive against both Iowa State and Oklahoma then a year ago. A worse TCU team than the previous year’s edition came into Lubbock and stole a win. The close loss to Baylor matches the effort the team showed against Texas. Lastly and most devastating to my psyche, the Kansas loss is the worst loss in years.

I understand some Tech readers are seeing the improvement, I am not. I see a team, for whatever reason you want to point to, that is just is not where it needs to be. I hope to see that progress soon, which brings me to another reason for why this game matters.

What would truly be a sign of improvement would be going in to Austin and continuing Tech’s winning ways there. That would show a team that is learning how to win, and is starting to embrace an identity. Kingsbury’s best moments happened in Austin, more or less, and Wells needs to continue that streak to show he has this team on the precipice of a true step forward.

Another reason to watch is just the simple fact that a five-win season is a lot better than a four-win season. That seems like an unimportant distinction, but for this program it makes a world of difference. Besides the fact that four wins would, by definition, mean we had a worse season than what led to Kliff being fired, five wins sums up the feel of the program nicely. Very, very close to a breakthrough.

At the least five wins means that, despite all the injuries and bad coaching decisions, the program did NOT take a step back. For people in my camp that just are not seeing the progress, a fifth win means that Wells kept the boat from sinking to a new low while he brings in his guys. It isn’t a big victory, but like I said it stops the bleeding.

Lastly, Tom Herman is the worst. I mean seriously, I like Texas more than most in the Red Raider nation but the guy has to be one of the more unlikable coaches out there. Beating him would rub salt in the wound for him and Texas, which would really be cathartic after a season that has been an eye sore (editors note: I also want to backhand slap the gum out of his mouth - he chews it like it’s made of cement and he just can’t break it down).

So while you suffer from a post-turkey hangover, tune in and support this team. College football is almost at an end, and we will not have the pleasure of bowl excitement to keep it going. This game does mean something. In fact, it means a lot.