Ok, I'm going to toss out an idea on a subject about which I don't know much, so bear with me and correct me where I'm wrong. Yet I feel that my experience here at ND has lent me some perspective on the lack of respect towards TTU in the AP/USA/BCS (mmmmm, alphabet soup).
Riddle me this: 2004- ND has a lukewarm season, finishing just at .500, and losing the Tidy Bowl handily to the Oregon State who-gives-a-craps. This year they beat an overrated and unexceptional Pitt (23), and land at #20 in the AP. Texas Tech went 7-4, went on to trounce #4 California 45-31, and enters the '05 season at... #21? What gives?
It's all about perception: if I've got this right, then 2 of the 3 major ranking systems (AP and USA/ESPN coaches) are tabulated using human votes. So they're at least influenced by the perception of those teams' skill as well as the actual hard numbers of wins/losses and points and whatnot. That perception is something that is built over time, so Notre Dame or Miami or Michigan does not have to work as hard for a good ranking as Tech does, because people expect Notre Dame and Miami and Michigan to be good teams.
So how, then, do the Red Raiders go about acquiring this sort of reputation, other than just the patently obvious "win more games?" I have several ideas.
1. Play harder teams. Look at Tech's schedule, for Pete's sake. Florida International? Indiana State? I live in Indiana, and I've never heard of Indiana State! Just playing those teams makes Tech look like a lame ball club, and winning against them does nothing to improve their reputation. You can beat the Des Moines State Knuckledraggers 80-3 and you still won't even make the Saturday evening sports highlights. But you beat the LSU tigers by 1...
The problem with this idea is that any given team can't just schedule a game against whomever they want; the other team has to go for it, too. And most good teams right now won't give Tech the time of day. So how do they fix this, you may ask? Well, on to #2!
2. Become a real rival to good teams. There are some good teams who do play Tech every year, like OU, Texas, and A&M. And we Red Raiders consider them (esp. the last 2) our "rivals." But, (and any of you 'Horns and Aggies correct me if I'm wrong) they don't really feel the same way. For them, Tech is that annoying little team that gets the best of them if they screw it up. There's a big difference here: for Tech, it's a good season if we beat A&M. For A&M, it's not a good season if they win necessarily, but it's a bad one if they don't. They don't feel like Tech has a better team if Tech wins; they just feel like they played sub-par.
That's not a rivalry.
To fix this, to make Tech a rival, Tech needs to create the perception that A&M, or Texas, or whoever, has to play well to beat them, not just play normally. That means Tech needs to beat those teams consistently when they're having off years. Take last year, for instance: A&M didn't have a great year, certainly not like their glory days, but still beat Tech 32-25. Texas and OU or A&M will often go for several years at a time consistently beating the other, depending on who's hot (the Longhorns, for instance, haven't beaten the Sooners in 5 years). My dad told me once that he had already been a rabid Longhorns for years the first time he saw them fall to the Aggies. I had been watching college football for years the first time I saw the Longhorns beat the Aggies. Tech needs to start playing this way: when a team goes through dry spells, Tech should beat them consistently. Aggies will look at TTU in a whole different light after losing to them for 5 straight years.
I think these 2 points go hand in hand, supporting each other. As Tech becomes more consistent, building rivalries and getting associated with the good Big 12 teams, better non-conference will be willing to play them. As they stop wasting their time with lame teams, they'll get more used to playing good ones, and people will get used to seeing them playing good ones. And better teams will be willing to play them, etc. This improves their reputation and makes them look like a better team, so that the rankings folks will start to expect them to be good, and will tend to give them higher rankings.