High expectations for McGuire and the Red Raiders in 2023

Every May, as summer approaches, we slowly begin to see the number of college football preview stories leaking out from the national pundits increase. What’s so exciting for the Texas Tech football program this time around is that there are significant external expectations for this season, which hasn’t been the case for quite some time.

In fact, well-respected college football insider Brett McMurphy sent out Tweet on Tuesday that got plenty of people around Raiderland buzzing.  Listing his early bowl projections, McMurphy had the Red Raiders in the Cotton Bowl to square off with Alabama.  While that would not have Tech playing in the College Football Playoff, it would mean that the Red Raiders were Big 12 champions given that no other Big 12 team was included in McMurphy’s projected matchups for the New Year’s Six bowls.

Of course, no one associated with Joey McGuire’s program would turn their nose up at a chance to play one of the nation’s most prestigious programs in front of what would be a rowdy partisan crowd in the Metroplex, home to the most Texas Tech alums anywhere in the world outside of Lubbock.  Such a matchup would be a great springboard for Red Raider football and, given how the 2023 roster is constructed, this fall is the perfect time for Tech to make some serious national noise.

Thanks to the extra year of eligibility granted to players for the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Tech will feature what is likely to be the oldest and most experienced roster in program history.  In fact, all over the depth chart can be found players who are entering their final season of college football.

That’s especially true on defense where eight starters will be exhausting their eligibility this season with one more, Syracuse transfer outside linebacker Steve Linton, also being a senior but still having the option to return in 2024 thanks to the COVID freebie.  That leaves only middle linebacker, Jacob Rodriguez and defensive back transfer from San Diego State C. J. Baskerville (both of whom are juniors) as the only non-seniors projected to start for D.C. Tim DeRuyter.

The story is a bit different on the other side of the ball but still, O.C. Zach Kittley will have his share of experience to rely on with seven starters playing their final year.  Of course, the most important of those is QB Tyler Shough who many believe has an NFL future if he can prove capable of staying healthy for a full season.  He’ll be protected by three senior offensive linemen, two of whom were not part of last season’s porous line.

The point is that this is a roster built for this year.  Thus, Tech must make noise this season because it is a vital opportunity for the program to announce that it is back to being a factor on the national scene.

Also, should Tech manage to do something it has never done before and win the Big 12, doing so in 2023 would carry more sway around the country than achieving that goal in subsequent years given that this is the final season with Oklahoma and Texas in the conference.  Make no mistake, having this year’s conference crown to hold over those two pompous programs would be an extra benefit of a big year for Tech this fall as well.

In any NCAA sport, experience and age are two of the most coveted traits for a roster to possess.  There’s just such a difference between what a 22 or 23-year-old senior brings to the table in terms of maturity (both physically and mentally) compared to a freshman or sophomore that older teams are almost always the ones that seem to win big.

Still, the number of seniors that Tech will be featuring this year is unusually high.  For instance, the 2008 team that was unquestionably the best Red Raider squad of the modern era started only eight seniors.  Of course, having a pair of sophomores such as wide receiver Michael Crabtree and defensive tackle Colby Whitlock as anchors on each side of the ball didn’t hurt matters either that season.

Next year, though, Tech could be facing a bit of a retrenching season with Behren Morton taking over as the full-time starter (likely for the first time in his career) and an offensive line losing three starters to graduation.  What’s more, Tech will have to replace four starting defensive backs, both starting defensive tackles, one starting linebacker, and at least one starting defensive end.

Now, the prevalence of the transfer portal in the modern game means that programs can replace experience with more experience rather than simply turning over spots to underclassmen and waiting for them to develop.  Thus, it is not hard to fathom a world in which the Red Raiders are able to build a veteran-laden roster in 2024 despite the coming losses next off-season.

Still, it would seem as if 2023 is the year that Tech has been building toward for years.  It is one that sees McGuire’s cupboard stocked with talent at a level that we’ve not seen in Lubbock in well over a decade and almost all of that talent has been around the college football block several times.  Thus, it would be best for all in scarlet and black for the year’s team to be the one that puts Tech back on the map in a big way.