LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) -Friday night lights have ruled the football-loving landscape in West Texas for decades. This year, Saturday nights are the hot ticket.
No. 2 Texas Tech, often overshadowed even by the high school game, is now front and center on the college scene in pursuit of a national championship, basking in the highest ranking in the program's 83-year history. For the second week in a row, the Red Raiders (9-0) are getting ready to play in prime time on a national television at home against a top-10 opponent.
The visit from No. 8 Oklahoma State (8-1) comes a week after then-No. 1 Texas fell 39-33 on a dramatic touchdown by Michael Crabtree with one second remaining. That win was an instant classic - and the biggest in Texas Tech history - but it took years for the Red Raiders to get in position for it.
This program on the plains in the heart of the world's biggest cotton patch has endured a few starts and stops.
to heights not seen again until now. When he left for Mississippi, a string of losing seasons followed until 1986, when the Red Raiders lured David McWilliams from the Texas staff and went 7-5 in their first bowl season since 1977. McWilliams wasn't around for the bowl game, though, because he decided to go back to his alma mater as head coach.
Texas Tech then settled for stability under Spike Dykes, who won nine games twice in 13 years but mostly went to lower-tier bowls. The exception was the 6-6 season of 1994, when the Red Raiders were trounced 55-14 by USC in the Cotton Bowl after five teams tied for first in the old Southwest Conference.
Then came Mike Leach, the quirky coach who loves pirates and reads Winston Churchill. Save for the dynamic passing offense that seems to break records every year, his resume through eight seasons looked a lot like that of Dykes - solid records, second-tier bowl bids.
Until now. The win over the Longhorns snapped a personal five-game losing streak against Texas and was the first for Texas Tech against a No. 1 team in eight tries. Plus, Leach can say he's taken Tech to a bowl game every season, something Dykes didn't do.
a lot of great coaches aren't.''
A good measure of the current success can be traced to the day Leach persuaded Crabtree to come to Lubbock. He won the Biletnikoff Award that goes to the nation's best receiver last year as a freshman. The winning touchdown against Texas was simply a superior play from a superior player - making the catch, slipping a tackle and tiptoeing along the sideline into the end zone.
``I think maybe the only thing in comparison would be Donny Anderson,'' said John Scovell, a Texas Tech regent who played alongside the former Green Bay Packers running back in the 1960s. ``I really think he put Texas Tech on the map as far as the athletic program.''
M to several major out-of-state programs.
``Lubbock is a little bit unique because it's not a major metropolitan area,'' Dykes said. ``It's sort of in the eyes of the beholder.''
get the best seats went up again Monday after it eventually surrounded the 53,000-seat stadium in the five days leading up to the Texas game.
In some circles, talk about Texas Tech football eclipsed discussions leading up to Election Day.
Still, it's not like there was never anything to talk about since Leach came to Texas Tech. His quarterbacks have three of the seven 5,000-yard passing seasons in NCAA history. The Red Raiders had the biggest bowl comeback ever two years ago, rallying from 31 points down to beat Minnesota 44-41 in overtime.
``Mike Leach has done a tremendous job making all this work,'' said former Texas Tech center and linebacker E.J. Holub, another NFL player. ``It's just taken time to get things done.''
With Crabtree's arrival last season and Graham Harrell, a quarterback who understands Leach's offensive attack maybe better than others have, Leach is on the brink of something his city and school have never seen.
``When you can get a quarterback and a receiver who are right at the best at their position, then you've created potentially another level.'' Sloan said. ``You have extraordinary people who raise the level of the already good players. The other thing that happens is the team as a whole develops genuine confidence. That's more than confidence.''
Special seasons also have defining moments. That's what Crabtree provided.
of Texas Tech could be that Crabtree catch,'' Scovell said. ``Certainly to have a breakout season, the things it does down the line have got incredible reach. It's probably unfair, but so much of the face of a university is athletics.''
It's a changing face at Texas Tech.
``They've got a good sell,'' said Dykes, ``and it's better now than it's ever been.''

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