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Forget about 2023: Texas Tech could hang with Oregon today

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Little better than .500 in a few seasons this decade, Texas Tech has not been heavily criticized for its non-conference scheduling. The Red Raiders aren’t yet on the rise in the Kliff Kingsbury era, but they want to become a contender in the Big 12. To avoid the backlash Baylor received for having three virtual bye weeks to open the season, Tech has made a statement.

It was announced on Monday that Texas Tech and Oregon will play a home-and-home series in 2023 and 2024. That’s that type of game Baylor fans wish they could get, to prove once and for all that the Bears are the top offense in the nation. Yet, it’s the Red Raiders that will go toe-to-toe with the Nike-clad Ducks, whose penchant for pyrotechnics has been established over the past decade.

No one knows how strong either program will be in 2023 when Oregon comes to Lubbock. Recruiting services don’t yet extend to 2019. Kingsbury could fetch a bigger job, and Oregon’s Mark Helfrich could eventually follow Chip Kelly’s lead to the pros.

Based on Oregon’s pedigree as a perennial top-25 team with everything but a national title, Tech is the inferior program at the moment. What might be underappreciated, however, is that this matchup would be competitive if held later this year.

Placing second in average scoring last season isn’t anything to sneer at. No, that’s not Oregon — the Ducks ranked fifth. The Red Raiders scored 45.1 points per game. Granted, that’s the only season they have to fully support this potent offense, but it’s also the only season they’ve had Patrick Mahomes under center.

With Mahomes, the Red Raiders have proven they can hang with just about anyone. Though only 7-6 in 2015, a few bounces of the ball easily could have produced a 9-4 season.

Hop back to 2014 when Mahomes made his third start for Tech against Baylor, the top-scoring offense in the country three years running. Well below .500, Tech should have been out of contention even at a neutral site (Arlington), but Mahomes offered the Red Raiders a glimpse of the future.

The game turned into a shootout with Baylor winning, 48-46. The Bears prevailed, but Mahomes’s gunslinging stole the show. Kingsbury’s new quarterback passed for a freshman-record 598 yards and six touchdowns.

Tech’s loss to TCU (ranked seventh in scoring) last season could be viewed in a similar light. Tech had TCU on the ropes the entire game. Were it not for Aaron Green’s miraculous catch on a tipped ball, the scoreboard would have read 52-48, Tech. Tech’s offense was able to match up pound for pound with a daunting Horned Frog offense.

Narrow application of the transitive property is often risky, but it can just as frequently illuminate a topic. Given how TCU — flawed but formidable — beat Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, it’s hardly unreasonable to think that Mahomes and company could come out on top, at least while playing host. TCU also required a few miracles against Oregon, but was without a handful of key contributors, Trevone Boykin in particular.

While this is all hypothetical, it would be fun to see how this series would play out today. It would definitely help Tech cement itself as a team to watch.

The Red Raiders need to use the 2016 season to become that kind of team. Cementing this process now will enable Tech to beat Oregon later.

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