When Texas Tech and Houston met in September of last year, it was a truly magical moment for the Cougars. The Red Raiders were seen as one of the top teams in the country and head coach Mike Leach was one of those names mentioned whenever a major college job opened up. The Cougars were climbing into the national consciousness in their bid to be seen as a relevant and national power for the first time in nearly two decades.
Times change. Mike Leach is gone, and the Red Raiders (6-5) limp into tomorrow's game having just barely eeked into a bowl game. The Cougars (5-6) have perhaps fallen even farther. They're a victory short of bowl eligibility with one game left to play and they've been without their all-planet quarterback for most of the season.
This might be the last game of the season for the Cougars. If they win, they gain bowl eligibility and the chance to play in one of the many of hundreds of thousands minor bowl games owned by ESPN. If they lose, the season's over. The year that began with high hopes concludes with shattered dreams and dashed expectations.
No matter what happens tomorrow night, many of the Cougars will get a chance for redemption next year. But for the senior class, this is it. If they win, they get one more chance to don the uniform of the Houston Cougars. If they lose, then the odds are they've played the last game of organized football that they'll ever play.
"I know that when I'm a senior I don't want to go out with a losing season," junior running back Bryce Beall said on Tuesday. "Legacy is on the line. I know they're going to go out and give it all they've got, and we want play for them. Our seniors have been good to us. I know when I got here, they took me in...I just want to go out there and play hard for them."
But it's not about playing hard for the Cougars. Not anymore. It can't be said that the Cougars have never not played hard this season. There have been games when they haven't executed. There have been games when they made mistake after mistake, or when the game plan was lacking. But the effort has always been there.
"It's been very disappointing," Beall said about the season. "I'm not going to make any excuses. I seriously doubt that this is the season that any of us envisioned this year, but we can make it better by going to a bowl game. I know we didn't meet all of our goals that we set out to make, but we still have a chance to make a bowl game, and that's important to us."
There's no magical formula to follow for the Cougars to defeat Texas Tech. And it's not even that difficult. The Cougars average more total yards a game than Tech. They average more rushing yards, and more passing yards, and more points per game. The Cougar defense actually surrenders less yards per game than Tech, and they both surrender a little over 31 points a game. Of course, Texas Tech's schedule is a bit more difficult than that of the Cougars, but then again, the Cougars didn't have any weak sisters like the Texas Longhorns on their schedule, either.
"They're trying to find their identity a little bit," head coach Kevin Sumlin said of Tech. "They've got playmakers on offense, and they've struggled a little bit on defense, statistically, but they've made plays to win games. They made enough plays to beat Baylor and Missouri....They've played in spurts, and they've been in a bunch of games."
That same can be said about the Cougars. Even without Case Keenum the Cougars have a ton of playmakers on offense. They've struggled on defense, but the defense has made plays to win games and to defeat bowl eligible teams like UTEP and UTEP. The Cougars have played in spurts, and they've been in a bunch of games.
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So tomorrow night this season definitely maybe ends for the year. If the Cougars win, they've got one more game. If they lose, then it's all over for the seniors while the rest of the team awaits next season.
This definitely isn't the season the Cougars expected it to be it. But it's the season they got, and tomorrow night offers up one final chance for some redemption.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
Tomorrow night's game is set to kickoff from Lubbock around 7:00. It will be televised on Fox Sports Net and the radio broadcast will be on 790 KBME....This is the 30th time the Cougars and Red Raiders have played each other, and the Coogs lead the series 18-10-1 including a 8-5 record in Lubbock....Wide receiver Patrick Edwards is 77 receiving yards short of his second straight 1,000-yard season....The Cougars sold out five of their six home games this season, and the attendance for each of those games ranks in the top-10 all-time largest Robertson Stadium crowds.