There is more on the line in this game than meets the eye. The TCU Horned Frogs (8-2, 5-2 Big 12) are still the front-runners for a rematch with the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game. While it seems unlikely they will end up in the College Football Playoff, even if they win the Big 12, crazier things have happened. Meantime, the Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-5. 2-5) are coming off a win against Baylor in Arlington and now need to split one of their next two games to be bowl eligible. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury will feel much better about his job security for 2018 if he can get this team to a bowl game for the third time in his five seasons.
TCU at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: TCU -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who’s at quarterback for TCU?
TCU head coach Gary Patterson (above, right) announced on Tuesday that quarterback Kenny Hill is “probable to questionable” for this game against the Red Raiders. Hill does not get the same recognition as the top gunslingers in the Big 12, but he has been a consistent presence to lead this TCU offense. Hill has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 2,279 yards with 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions. If he can’t go, Patterson will ride the arm and legs of true freshman Shawn Robinson. He was a highly-regarded four-star prospect from DeSoto, Texas, with offers from Auburn, Michigan, Oklahoma, and several others. But is he ready for prime time with Big 12 title hopes on the line? Luckily, with TCU’s strong running game, he won’t be asked to do too much.
2. Turnover war
When the Red Raiders shot out of the gates off to a 4-1 start and getting ranked in the Top 25, they were leading the Big 12 in turnover margin. They snapped their four-game losing streak last week in a win over Baylor, a game where the Red Raiders forced four turnovers. In wins, Texas Tech has 10 fumble recoveries in five games. In five losses, they have zero. Both teams have been steady in conference play, going plus-three in the turnover margin. But it won’t be easy this week for Texas Tech, as TCU has only lost the ball five times in Big 12 play, the fewest in the conference.
3. Texas Tech offense vs. TCU defense
This is the matchup to watch. TCU has one of the best defenses in the country, but has injury concerns with linebackers Travin Howard, Montrel Wilson and safety Niko Small. They are all among the top 10 tacklers for the Horned Frogs this season. Does that allow Texas Tech’s high-powered offense to do even more damage? Tech has made an effort at being more balanced by running the ball, but the Horned Frogs have been even stinger against the run (second in the FBS) than the pass, so expect to see much more of Nic Shimonek slinging it on the outside to Keke Coutee and Dylan Cantrell. Tech’s best chance in this game is to get out to an early lead and force TCU to throw the ball with either Hill or Robinson.
Take this with an extreme grain of salt, but it’s a fun little stat: Playing on Nov. 18 has traditionally been favorable for the Red Raiders, who are 9-2 in their history on the date heading into this weekend. Texas Tech is a perfect 5-0 when playing at home on the date.
Yes, the Horned Frogs are banged up, but they are still the superior team and are ultimately playing for more (a Big 12 championship). Tech’s only win the past five games was last week against a one-win Baylor team using a true freshman quarterback who they forced into mistakes. Even if Kenny Hill can’t play for TCU, the Horned Frogs’ running game is more than capable of getting the job done (even though it’s missing Darius Anderson, who’s out with an injury). Kyle Hicks and Sewo Olonilua should carry most of the load against a Texas Tech team that is allowing nearly 170 rushing yards per game.
TCU is tops in the Big 12 in passing defense and should be able to slow down Nic Shimonek and the Red Raiders’ aerial attack enough to pick up the road victory. Also, if this game comes down to a field goal or special teams, don’t expect much from Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have hit one field goal the past five games and is near the bottom of the Big 12 in PATs, punt return average and punting average.
Prediction: TCU 31, Texas Tech 24
— Written by Pete Mundo, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as well as owner and operator of HeartlandCollegeSports.com, a site for Big 12 fans. Mundo also is a college football analyst for Sports Illustrated’s SI Now and a sports anchor at CBS Sports Radio. He can be found on Twitter @PeteMundo. Follow Heartland College Sports on Twitter @Heartland_CS.