Four years ago, Texas Tech defeated No. 4 California in the Holiday Bowl in what was then hailed as one of the biggest wins of Mike Leach's tenure in Lubbock. The Bears, who had been passed over for a bid to the Rose Bowl in favor of Texas, entered the contest as 11-point favorites, but were pasted by Sonny Cumbie and the Red Raiders in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 45-31 final score may indicate. Cal head coach Jeff Tedford admitted much later that his team never really got over the perceived snub, and let those feelings affect their play that day.
Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss
Approaching a milestone:
Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell just needs 253 yards to become the only player in NCAA history to throw for 5,000 yards in multiple seasons.
With Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree finishing fourth and fifth in Heisman voting, Texas Tech became only the 16th team in NCAA history to have two players in the vote's top five.
Program first for Harrell:
Harrell was named to the AFCA All-America team, making him the first QB in program history to earn first-team honors.
Last time against UM:
Texas Tech defeated Ole Miss 49-45 in 2003 thanks to a six TD and 661 yard performance by quarterback B.J. Symons.
All-time series record:
Tied at 2-2.
"Being a participant in that game, and seeing it from our standpoint, we were very appreciative, very excited to go to the bowl game," said Cumbie earlier this month. "I think [Cal] definitely had their eyes set on a higher BCS game."
Fast forward to today, and Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach finds himself and his team in a similar situation as their 2004 Holiday Bowl opponents, but you won't see or hear of any Red Raider feeling sorry for themselves.
"It's very similar," confirmed Cumbie. "I think Coach Leach, being on the side of it that he was on, can use that experience to make sure that an 11-1, sitting just outside of the BCS, Texas Tech team won't feel sorry for itself, appreciative of where they're at and to let them know that Ole Miss is in this bowl game for a reason. They're a very good football team."
Though there isn't anyone on the roster who played against Cal, there are several players who made the trip during their redshirt season.
"I guess I'm the only receiver that was there at the Holiday Bowl, but I remember how excited everybody was and how focused we were during practices that week," said senior inside receiver Eric Morris. "We really went there with one goal, and that was to win the football game."
"We were excited in the Holiday Bowl in '04," added senior quarterback Graham Harrell, who was also in Qualcomm Stadium that day. "California wasn't as excited and we beat'em because of that. You've got to match their excitement and match their intensity level. Ole Miss is going to be excited to play, be excited to be there, and we've got to match that. The Cal game is an example of that, but hopefully we can learn from that and play well."
TACKY SWEATERS EN VOGUE
Who knows how it first got onto the Internet, but what started as an invitation to an "ugly sweater party" quickly made the rounds of message boards before it went viral and hit all of the mainstream sports blogs.
"We just had some time off and decided to have a little Christmas party," explained Morris. "The theme was an 'ugly Christmas sweater party,' so we kind of just wanted to make a little invitation to give to people before the party and so we thought it'd be appropriate to put on our sweaters and get that card taken."
Funny as it was, none of them expected it to go viral.
"We didn't mean for it to go worldwide like it has," said Harrell. "I've heard it was in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and they're having a tacky sweater contest and the winner gets three free tickets to the Cotton Bowl. So it's getting a lot of love, I guess, or a lot of hate. It was just something we did to be dumb.
"It was just something out of fun, and we had a good time with it. I guess everyone else is having a good time with it now, too."
WILLIAMS STILL LIVING A DREAM
At this point, the story of Texas Tech placekicker Matt Williams is well-known among college football fans (in case you missed it), and has been relayed by family members and coaches alike. What fans haven't heard, though, is Williams himself commenting on his amazing journey.
"It's still a fantasy," said Williams. "I mean, this is all so crazy to me. Definitely it's gotten more relaxed after the first game. After the first game, it's just me doing my job, kicking the ball like I know how to do it. It's still so crazy to me, though, that all this has happened. All I can do is thank God for this opportunity."
Williams' first opportunity to kick came in the Red Raiders' eighth game of the season, on the road at Kansas. And though it had been rumored that he would get a shot, Williams didn't find out anything for sure until the last minute.
"I think it was either that Monday or Tuesday, I really don't remember," he said. "Leach just called me into his office and talked to me and said, 'We'll see how it goes in practice this week. We'll just look at you and see how everything goes.'
"And I got up to Kansas and they were like, 'Alright, you're kicking extra points.' It was pretty much a game-time decision."
And that first kick?
"It was nerve-wracking," said Williams. "I was really nervous. I mean, being in front of that many people for my first game, and it's a big game against what was then the 14th team in the nation. A lot of the guys encouraged me. Leach gave me a pat on the back and stuff. He was like, 'This is nothing. The biggest kick you had was for Lynwood. The whole team is behind you, so just remember that.' There was a lot of encouragement going on, so that helped a lot with the nervousness."
Williams was a perfect 9-of-9 on the day on PATs, and was recognized the next week as the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week and the AT&T All-America Player of the Week.
"I was kind of shocked, to be honest," grinned Williams. "I didn't think anything like that would ever happen. Never thought I'd be on a list with Graham Harrell and Javon Ringer and those other guys, so it was a shock. I'm very proud to be able to get that, but I was kind of surprised and I know I had a lot of people from home voting for me, but it's just a big honor for me."
Williams ended the season 29-of-29 on PATs and 2-of-3 on field goal attempts.
PAST COTTON BOWL EXPERIENCE A PLUS
While this will be the first bowl game for all but one Ole Miss player, everyone on the Texas Tech roster (excluding first-year players) has prior postseason experience. Indeed, a handful of Red Raiders even played in the program's last appearance in the Cotton Bowl, a 13-10 loss to Alabama in 2006.
"I feel like we should have played better offensively that day," said Harrell. "Cody [Hodges] went down and I got in, and that was a blast. You know, my first steps for my career were at the Cotton Bowl. So I've got good memories of it. I hit [Jarrett] Hicks on one play, but only got a couple of snaps."
The fact that Texas Tech has never won a Cotton Bowl is something that is definitely on the players' minds.
"I kind of have a bittersweet feeling about the Cotton Bowl," commented Morris. "Ultimately, we lost that game to Alabama. That's something we've never done, won a Cotton Bowl in Tech history. So we're really focused on changing that. We want to prove a point here at the end of the year and prove to the nation that we are for real and deserved to be ranked this high.
"We kind of went through a little tough stretch there at the end of the year but we're looking to bounce back strong and have a great showing in the Cotton Bowl."