For as much as last year's loss to Arizona State has come to define Texas Tech's 2016 campaign, the Red Raiders lost by just 13 points. The team fell short of expectations in Tempe, to be sure, but in the context of a disappointing season, very little about that loss stands out above the other six.
The Red Raiders gave up 68 points to the Sun Devils, the most allowed by the team all season, yet that's not all that much more than the 66 points given up to Oklahoma and Iowa State. Arizona State piled up 652 yards of offense that night against Texas Tech, but Oklahoma (854) and Texas (658) would later top that mark. The Sun Devils steamrolled over the Red Raiders and ran for 301 yards, but that was just the fourth-best rushing performance against David Gibbs' defense last season. Many Wilkins had a career day against the Red Raiders, but Zach Smith, Mason Rudolph and certainly Baker Mayfield matched or topped those numbers.
For all the many crooked numbers Arizona State put up that night in Tempe, a single digit stands stands out above the rest: eight.
Kalen Ballage, who entered the game having scored nine total touchdowns in 22 career games, tied an NCAA record by scoring eight touchdowns. Those 60 minutes against Texas Tech accounted for more than a quarter of his season rushing yards (137 of 536) and more than half of his total touchdowns (8 of 15).
Much like Hester Prynne and her scarlet 'A,' a scarlet '8' has hung over the Red Raiders for more than a year. Tonight they will have something not afforded to Hester: an opportunity to wash away their sins.
Twice before Kliff Kingsbury's Texas Tech program has had a chance to scrub clean the embarrassing stink of a past loss and twice before it has come through with an inspired performance.
In 2014, the Arkansas Razorbacks visited Lubbock and handed the Red Raiders their first defeat of the season, piling up 438 yards and 49 points along the way. Kingsbury's team returned the favor the following year in Fayetteville, holding the fighting Bret Bielemas to 424 total yards and 24 points.
Also in 2014, TCU routed Texas Tech 82-27 in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs scored so much that the production staff at Amon G. Carter Stadium ran out of fireworks to shoot off after scores. The following season, the Red Raiders pushed third-ranked TCU to the brink before falling 55-52.
Texas Tech may not beat Arizona State tonight. The Sun Devils are well-coached and have some of the best skill players that the Red Raiders will face all season. But it's hard to imagine any scenario where Texas Tech doesn't emerge from tonight's game having washed away its scarlet '8.'