Bret Bielema — the big talker who belittled Ohio State’s schedule and then lost to a Mid-American Conference team at home — doesn’t deserve to be seen as a somebody in college football right now. Bielema — the man who gets into arguments with coaches after getting waxed by their teams on his own home field — thinks he’s the big man in the room, when in fact he’s the smallest one in the crowd.
Bielema, for all intents and purposes, is a nobody in September of 2015. He thinks he’s winning respect and maintaining his stature in his verbal spat with Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Yet, it’s Kingsbury who won big — on the field, in the press, and in the court of public opinion. If the whole Bielema-Kingsbury battle has made Bielema smaller, it has made Kingsbury larger.
Being human, it is therefore natural for Kingsbury to feel better about himself and his program. It would be easy for Kingsbury to believe that his program has accomplished something.
However, entering this next Saturday, Kingsbury needs to get his own mind and his own team in a very different psychological setting. The Red Raiders might have gleefully and inwardly snickered at Bielema’s pathetic behavior. They might have reveled in the realization of how much Kingsbury got inside BERT’s head. Yet, as good as any of that felt — and still feels — Texas Tech has to turn the page in a hurry.
This Saturday, after beating an Arkansas team which is 1-2 and quickly headed for the nowhere land of mediocrity, Texas Tech encounters both a test and an opportunity. The test is taking down the TCU Horned Frogs, a top-five team last season and one of the preseason favorites to make the College Football Playoff. The test will be to contain Trevone Boykin and the TCU offense, creating enough havoc on defense to make the Frogs leave 14 points on the table.
If Texas Tech can in fact do that — thereby causing the Frogs to score only 38 points instead of 52 — the idea of winning a shootout against Gary Patterson’s team becomes very realistic.
You have seen the defensive dominoes fall one by one in Fort Worth. TCU has lost one defensive starter after another to a combinations of injuries and suspensions. Kingsbury hasn’t fielded a strong defense in Lubbock, and truth be told, it will be hard for him to ever get to the point where his team’s defense is a genuine strength. Therefore, ultimate shootouts — video game specials — are Kingsbury’s preferred domain. With TCU being so wafer-thin and diminished on defense, this game against the Horned Frogs sets up perfectly for the man who helped Johnny Manziel win the Heisman Trophy in 2012 at Texas A&M, using that season under Kevin Sumlin to become Texas Tech’s head coach a year later.
Keep this in mind when you think about Saturday’s game: While TCU is the team with national championship pressure weighing heavily on its shoulders, Kingsbury has his own pressure to deal with.
Texas Tech has invested heavily in Kingsbury, despite no previous head coaching experience. Kingsbury is certainly blessed with a certain degree of talent, and what he did with Manziel at A&M was no small feat — Johnny Football became the first freshman Heisman winner in the award’s history, dating back to 1935. In 2013, Andy Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936, and that drama weighed on all of Great Britain the whole time. Breaking the freshman Heisman streak might not have carried the same weight, but you can get a sense of how rare the achievement was. Kingsbury’s reputation skyrocketed, and Texas Tech took a chance on its favored son, a former quarterback in Lubbock.
Now, Kingsbury — in his third season — has to begin to show that he can deliver the goods and live up to the fanfare which accompanied his arrival as an FBS head coach.
In 2015 alone, he might never get a better chance to prove his worth than right here, right now. Kingsbury might never get as perfect an opening to make a major national statement as he does against a TCU team which — for all the ways in which it might improve in October — appears to be supremely vulnerable in late September.
Kliff Kingsbury won an easy victory over Bret Bielema, a nobody. Call it a false victory or an overblown victory — you get the point: there’s not too much (roasted pig) meat on the bone.
If he should fricassee some Frog meat this Saturday, however, we’d have fresh reason to view Kingsbury as a coach who is making forward strides, a coach who is beginning to justify the hype which attended his return to Lubbock two years ago.