Two old conference foes who could wind up being league opponents again are set to get the new season rolling Saturday on the national stage with plenty of storylines in tow.
Houston and Texas Tech square off at NRG Stadium in Houston, a high-profile game between two programs that have slipped off the radar a bit the last few seasons.
Both teams are guided by third-year coaches who likely need their teams to show some progress this fall: the Cougars’ Dana Holgorsen and the Red Raiders’ Matt Wells.
The two old Southwest Conference foes are among a group of teams somewhat in limbo after the bombshell news that Texas and Oklahoma are leaving the Big 12 Conference for the SEC.
Whether Houston and Texas Tech wind up together again remains to be seen, but this season revives their series for just the fifth time since the end of the SWC after the 1995 season.
Holgorsen said his team is already fired up for a new season, especially after a 2020 campaign perforated by COVID-19. Add in some other elements — including a handful of Cougars who transferred from Texas Tech and some connections between the coaching staffs — and there is plenty of intrigue.
“You throw a Texas school in there, a Big 12 school in there, and you expect them to be excited,” said Holgorsen, who has guided Houston to 4-8 and 3-5 records in his first two seasons.
The Red Raiders have been slightly better under Wells, going 4-8 in 2019, 4-6 in 2020. But this will be a new-look team in a lot of ways with 20 transfers and a Big 12-leading 12 super seniors, those players who are taking advantage of the NCAA’s decision to give them another year after 2020 was derailed by COVID.
“The thing that gives me confidence is the amount of games played by the guys that we’re playing with on both sides of the ball, whether here at Texas Tech or at other schools,” Wells said. “I would say we do have an older presence. We have a veteran team. A lot of guys have played in big games — Division I games — and that’s what I draw confidence on.”
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Most prominent among the list of newcomers for Texas Tech is an experienced starting quarterback.
Tyler Shough made the move to Lubbock after starting all seven games last season for Oregon and passing for 1,559 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is the front-runner of arguably the deepest collection of passers the Red Raiders have had since Patrick Mahomes left after his junior season in 2016.
“He’s everything you could hope for, and the big thing is he’s fit in very well with his teammates,” Wells said.
Shough has company in the group of newcomers. Left tackle T.J. Storment was an All-Big 12 player at TCU. Receiver Kaylon Geiger is in scarlet and black after catching 141 passes and scoring eight touchdowns at Troy, and safety Marquis “Muddy” Waters started 35 games in four seasons at Duke.
While Houston didn’t load up as much in the transfer market, the Cougars are also leaning on a veteran quarterback to engineer Holgorsen’s version of the Air Raid offense. Clayton Tune passed for 2,048 yards and 15 scores in eight games last fall.
“Clayton is a guy we know we can rely on because he knows the offense,” Holgorsen said.
No argument from Wells.
“He’s accurate, throws a good ball, throws different kinds of balls,” Wells said. “He’s got arm strength to throw it down the field, so I think those are the things that make him good.”
–Field Level Media