We’re within a month of legitimate football action to dissect. In the meantime, your options for perusing position group projections and a flood of pre-season polls — which the Frogs aren’t included in — are limitless. Truthfully, this season will prove to be the most important in recent memory for Frog fanatics and will likely determine the nature of football in Fort Worth for the next decade at least.
Much of the important groundwork is already being posited in cloak and dagger meetings, but TCU football can help their cause by proving themselves on the field this season. Oklahoma and Texas are gone. Don’t expect to see the Sooners or Longhorns on the schedule next season. Both UT and OU have repeatedly said they’ll fulfill their obligations to the Big 12 through 2025, an assurance emptier than placating my toddler about looking into buying him a pony for his birthday. Everyone, including Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, knows the two headline defectors are mudding down unpaved roads to the SEC after this year’s season. The Big 8 refugees are in a precarious position of scrambling for their major-conference lives amid a shift in college football that is only at the adolescent stage. Rumors abound regarding other big-name schools such as Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, and Florida State constructing their own outhouses down in stars and bars country. Unofficial reports are flowing steadily that the Big 10, PAC 12, and ACC are negotiating among themselves for an alliance to try and preserve their relevance.
No scenario is off the table right now. Purely regional college football is heading the way of the gasoline automobile and political integrity. The rumor mill suggests that TCU — as well as others — are negotiating with the PAC 12. Considering the impending implosion of our conference, this season proves to be the last time Texas Christian realtors can paint and remodel the bathrooms before we put a house with serious foundation problems on the market.
The basement finish for our Frogs this season is fourth place. We’re basically living a hybrid of the first season of Ted Lasso as a team fighting for their lives against relegation to a lower league and Will Ferrell’s Semi-Pro. Oklahoma, because they return almost their entire already explosive offense — paired with an expectedly improved defense — is the obvious favorite to win the conference for the seventh consecutive time. Iowa State, on the heels of last season’s performance, has also broken into the national preseason rankings and is primed to be dangerous based on returning personnel.
Texas and Oklahoma are the most meaningless games for the Frogs this season. That might seem strange, even blasphemous, but hear me out. Considering the former as houses that have already sold, we want to make sure we’re comparing TCU to teams that are still on the market. The first must-win game is naturally the PAC 12 spat with Cal in Week 2. While the Golden Bears aren’t looking for a new home, beating someone from the conference you’re courting is a solid first step. The next would be defeating Texas Tech in Week 6, Baylor in Week 10, and Oklahoma State in Week 11. Iowa State is projected to finish second in the conference and are most likely heading for the Big 10 because of regional relevance and existing in-state rivalries with the Hawkeyes. A win over the Cyclones in the final week could be the exclamation mark on a season where finishing second or third would be an overwhelming success.
The bad news — amid a seemingly endless supply of the stuff — is that the only teams of the must-win games that come to Fort Worth are the Bears of both the Golden and Baptist variety. Every other important matchup will kickoff in hostile territory. To compound the schedule frustrations, TCU’s bye week is painstakingly early, between the Cal and SMU games. This season’s conference stretch, while admittedly not as difficult as some other conferences, will grind and drain the Frogs. TCU, as has been said in several past seasons, has potential to finally be explosive on offense. Junior Max Duggan is now a veteran quarterback with a talented wide receiver core. It sounds good, but Gary Patterson’s offense has yet to deliver when the deck has seemed similarly stacked.
Our Frogs have trifled in mediocre land for several seasons and the luster of a mid-major who claimed their spot among the big boys is gone. TCU has fared remarkably well considering their former status, but this season is about the future. Performance on the field may not have as much to do with selling ourselves to a new conference as is logical (see: the Texas Longhorns), but it can’t hurt. If the purple and white can somehow find themselves as conference runners-up behind the crimson and creme, their case for inclusion in the PAC 12 as an asset will be more convincing. Every game matters, but this season the cliche is more soberingly true than it’s ever been.