No flash in the pan: Texas Tech looking like contenders

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Mike Leach, the coach who is threatening to shake up college football like never before, stood in a hallway inside Texas Tech's athletic department building late Saturday night, wearing blue jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and white sneakers.

Who said an offensive genius has to be dressed for success?

At first glance, the Red Raiders look nothing like a team that is good enough to play for college football's BCS national championship two months from now.

Graham Harrell, their record-setting quarterback, was so small in high school that most other Big 12 programs ignored him. Michael Crabtree, their star receiver, was a high school quarterback without much of a passing arm. Star left tackle Rylan Reed is a former minor league baseball pitcher, and starting safety Daniel Charbonnet transferred to Texas Tech from Duke, of all places.

But for those college football fans who believed Texas Tech's 39-33 upset of then-No. 1 Texas last week was a fluke, Leach and his team had this message for them on Saturday night: think again.

The No. 2 Red Raiders blasted No. 9 Oklahoma State 56-20 at Jones AT&T Stadium, scoring touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions to blow open a game that was supposed to be close at the end. Only a week after upsetting the Longhorns on Harrell's dramatic 28-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree with only one second to play, Texas Tech regained its focus and turned in its most dominating performance of the season.

"A lot of people thought we weren't mentally disciplined enough to keep our eyes on our work and take care of our job," Leach said. "I'm proud of our guys for proving those people wrong."

The Red Raiders, who have a 10-0 record for the first time since 1938, might be proving people wrong all the way to the Jan. 8 BCS National Championship Game in South Florida. Yes, Texas Tech is that good. And after unranked Iowa stunned No. 3 Penn State 24-23 on a last-second field goal Saturday, the Red Raiders no longer have to worry about looking over their shoulders at another unbeaten team.

With two regular-season games left to play, Texas Tech sits in the driver's seat in the Big 12 South. Of course, its biggest test of all -- a Nov. 22 game at Oklahoma -- hasn't yet been passed. But if the Red Raiders play like they did against Oklahoma State, the Sooners' struggling defense won't be able to stop them.

Neither will Baylor, which plays here in the teams' Nov. 29 regular-season finale, or Missouri, a possible opponent in the Dec. 6 Big 12 championship game in Kansas City.

"I think any team is capable of beating any team," Harrell said. "In college football right now, everybody is pretty close. We feel like we're good enough to beat anybody in the country."

With its high-powered offense and improving defense, Texas Tech is even good enough to win the national championship.

Even in a West Texas town like Lubbock, which is known more for its ever-blowing winds and Buddy Holly, championship teams can be built.

A lot of people probably thought we'd come out and lose, and a lot of people picked us to lose. They thought we'd be riding high after the Texas game. That's the thing about this team; we put games behind us and get ready for our next opponent.

-- Graham Harrell

"I feel like every week we have something to prove," Crabtree said. "Week after week they seem to come up with something about us not having a this or a that. So every time we come out, we've got to play. That's what I put into everyone's head, and that's what I'm going to do."

Texas Tech went a long way toward gaining legitimacy Saturday night. A week after the Red Raiders gutted Texas' defense for 579 yards, they had 629 yards against the Cowboys. The Oklahoma State defense had allowed more than 500 yards only once this season, a significant feat in the pass-happy Big 12.

"I think [this victory] says a lot," Harrell said. "A lot of people probably thought we'd come out and lose, and a lot of people picked us to lose. They thought we'd be riding high after the Texas game. That's the thing about this team; we put games behind us and get ready for our next opponent."

Harrell was nothing less than brilliant against the Cowboys, completing 40 of 50 passes for 456 yards with six touchdowns. He fumbled a shotgun snap on Tech's third play from scrimmage, and Oklahoma State converted the miscue into a 7-0 lead. But Harrell never blinked, answering the Cowboys' first touchdown with a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive of his own. Texas Tech scored almost effortlessly on each of its next six possessions.

"Just stay calm," Harrell said. "It's two minutes into the game, and there's no reason to worry about it. We put the defense in a bad position, but there was no reason to panic. There was 58 minutes to play."

Texas Tech's offense usually needs only a couple of minutes to score. Crabtree caught eight passes for 89 yards with three touchdowns. He was showered with tortillas by Texas Tech students after each of his scores. With 40 touchdown catches in his first two college seasons, Crabtree is well on his way to opening a Tex-Mex joint.

"That's what it's all about -- scoring touchdowns," Harrell said. "Seven in a row is pretty good."

During each of Leach's first seven seasons at Texas Tech, his Red Raiders teams were about offense and little else. In the past, the Red Raiders went into most of their games believing they'd have to score on nearly every possession because their defense couldn't stop opponents from reaching the end zone.

Not anymore.

Under the direction of defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil -- who was promoted after Oklahoma State ripped the Red Raiders for 610 yards in a 49-45 loss in the fourth game of the 2007 season -- Tech's defense has been transformed into one of the best units in the Big 12. A week ago, Texas Tech held Texas 102 yards under its season average for total offense. The Red Raiders' defense even scored nine points of its own on a safety and interception return for a touchdown against the Longhorns.

Oklahoma State's offense didn't fare much better. Quarterback Zac Robinson threw for only 182 yards and was sacked twice. Tailback Kendall Hunter rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns, but much of his yardage came after the game was already out of reach. Wide receiver Dez Bryant, who came into the game with 60 catches for 1,054 yards with 15 touchdowns, was held to four catches for 86 yards.

"It's the best collection of skill players in the country," McNeil said of Oklahoma State's offense. "They've got an NFL wide receiver. They've got an NFL tight end and an NFL running back. They've got a great triggerman under center, and Mike Gundy does a great job of calling plays."

But McNeil's defense once again stood up to the challenge. The Red Raiders will face an even bigger test at Oklahoma in two weeks.

"This is what I tell our guys: Our offense deserves every accolade they get," McNeil said. "They produce big plays, they produce yards and they produce points. They're consistent and do it every year. We can't be mentioned in the same breath with our offense right now. Our kids are playing hard and playing well, but we can't be mentioned in the same tone as our offense."

But because the Red Raiders finally play defense, they have a legitimate chance to win any game, including the national championship.

"Being 10-0 is great," Harrell said. "But we know we have two regular-season games to go. We want to be 12-0 and that's the goal."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.