When Kliff Kingsbury took over as head coach of the Texas Tech football team in December 2012, no one knew what to expect from the youngest head coach in a BCS conference.
Could Kingsbury change the standard of mediocrity that had rooted itself in Tech’s football program since 2008? Could he inspire Tech’s high-powered offense?
One year into Kingbury’s tenure, those question remain unanswered.
Kingsbury started the season strong, going undefeated through the first 7 games. Using a combination of freshman quarterbacks Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, Tech grabbed two conference wins over TCU and West Virginia.
Along the way, tight end Jace Amaro stepped into the national spotlight as one of the best in the nation. Even Tech’s long-languishing defense showed promising improvement.
Then came the nightmare.
Tech’s remaining schedule exposed them for the young, inexperienced team they were. Playing such conference powerhouses as Oklahoma and Texas, Tech lost its last five games. After the hot start, Tech had still found a way to finish simply average.
The 7-5 season did little to dispel the doubts about Kingsbury, a popular former player who had returned to his alma mater as a hero. New doubts began to arise: what if “King Kliff” was not the right fit?
After the regular season, Mayfield, a big part of the Red Raiders’ early-season success, announced he planned to transfer.
The lackluster end to the season and the impending loss of Mayfield cast a cloud over Tech’s preparations for its Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl match up against Arizona State. The Sun Devils were favored by 14 points, and many Tech fans feared the televised game would result in more national embarrassment.
Instead, Kingsbury managed to re-ignite the magic with which Tech started the season.
The Red Raiders played with a confidence and intensity that had eluded them in the previous five games. Webb quickly made people forget about Mayfield, throwing four touchdown passes in the first half. The defense dominated the explosive Sun Devil offense on the way to a 37-23 victory.
“I have never been more proud of a group in my whole life,” Kingsbury said after the game.
With the promising end to the season, “King Kliff” has restored a sense of hope to Raiders fans. He heads into his second season as head coach with a solid quarterback in Webb, and whispers of a Big 12 Championship are already beginning to circulate around Lubbock.
Kingsbury has a roster full of young talent and the energy to turn Tech into a force in the Big 12 over the next few years.
Yet as Tech begins to look ahead to the fall, Kingsbury must address new questions. Can he capitalize on the Holiday Bowl victory? Can he create a level of consistent play that was lacking during the 2013 season?
One bowl victory can’t wipe away a season of doubt. Kingsbury’s challenge will be to turn that victory into the foundation for a championship season this year.