Nothing says sports in 2020 quite like Saturday night’s matchup between Houston Baptist and Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.
The game was arranged last month ago to comply with the Big 12’s scheduling model that its schools play a nonconference game.
And the Huskies, an FCS program that plays in the Southland Conference, aren’t playing a full fall schedule. Its conference delayed league play until the spring but is allowing its football teams to collect hefty FBS paychecks in nonconference games.
Houston Baptist went to the pay window last Saturday night, absorbing a 57-31 loss at North Texas despite 480 passing yards and three touchdowns from Bailey Zappe. The Huskies gave up 721 total yards, split almost evenly between passing (361) and rushing (360).
On paper, it’s reasonable to wonder just how hard Texas Tech, coming off a 4-8 mark in 2019, will flog Houston Baptist (5-7 last season). But second-year coach Matt Wells understandably voices concern, pointing out the hits his team’s depth chart has absorbed because of the 12 active cases of COVID-19 still on its roster.
“I think you can deduce that some of them have missed time, yes,” Wells said. “That would be accurate. And there are others, too, that have missed some time.”
Since mid-June, when the Red Raiders’ program began testing, 63 of their 123 players have been diagnosed with coronavirus. While 51 have recovered, the uncertainty of the pandemic has left everyone scrambling for various contingency plans.
To that end, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby last week declared that a team must have 53 available players to play. If that list doesn’t include seven offensive linemen, four interior defensive linemen or a quarterback, that team can’t play.
Teams must also pass three tests per week in order to suit up on Saturdays.
“We’ve still got two more tests to go,” Wells said Monday, “so I’m hopeful that we’ll have a bunch of negatives and be able to field a team on Saturday and go perform.”
Texas Tech is aiming for improvement behind quarterback Alan Bowman, who completed 101 of 154 passes for 1,020 yards before a shoulder injury ended his 2019 season after three weeks.
The Red Raiders also beefed up their roster by signing six graduate transfers in the offseason, including two with national championship experience in running back Chadarius Townsend (Alabama) and defensive back Eric Monroe (LSU).
Another graduate transfer, Arizona linebacker Colin Schooler, has bagged 312 tackles over the last three seasons. Schooler, who is the active career leader in tackles for loss (46), is expected to make an immediate impact.
The contest marks the first time Houston Baptist has played a “Power 5” opponent. The Huskies also play at Louisiana Tech on Sept. 26 to conclude their “fall” slate.
“I’m grateful that we were able to secure a schedule where we were able to play (three) games and give our players an opportunity to experience playing North Texas and Texas Tech and La Tech,” Houston Baptist coach Vic Shealy recently told reporters. “Three good programs. At least it gives them a little bit of a feeling that there’s something to still look for.”
–Field Level Media