Everyone, breathe a collective sigh of relief. This awful Horned Frog season has finally concluded. This has easily been the most frustrating football campaign for TCU this century. One win from bowl eligibility, the purple and white visited the 6-5 Cyclones and promptly lay down on the frigid turf and died. There’ll be no Preparation-H Bowl for this group of disappointments, who are squarely on college football’s naughty list. On the bright side, the oversized lumps of coal left in Frog stockings could be useful should we experience another Texas-sized power grid failure.
Iowa State has vastly underachieved this season. Picked initially to finish second in the conference, the team that returned almost every important player hasn’t met the lofty expectations set forth by journalists and prognosticators, but, damn, the Cyclones sure looked like world beaters against this sullen Frog squad.
Heralded running back Breece Hall (#28) etched his name into the college football records by scoring a touchdown in his 24th consecutive game, a figure that has remained unbeaten since the early 1950s. Hall didn’t just imprint himself on college football lore but into the nightmares and psyches of Frogs as he rushed 18 times for just shy of 250 yards with three touchdowns on the ground, then one through the air as well. Hall — by himself — doubled TCU’s total scoring effort.
The soon-to-be NFL running back damaged TCU on the ground more than any other player this entire season, eclipsing Bijan Robinson (#5) from Texas and doing it with approximately half the carries. The Frogs finished this season ranked 122nd in total rush defense. (There are only 130 FBS teams.)
As I’ve championed all season, this group was hamstrung by the offensive unit, but don’t fret. There’s plenty of blame to go around as we debrief the final statistics of this season.
The shortcomings on both sides may explain why former coach Gary Patterson was invited to explore options other than head coach within TCU’s athletic department. Max Duggan (#15), as great a person as he is — and, boy howdy, he’s an awesome young man — just isn’t a quarterback who can do what this staff needed him to. This season illuminated Duggan’s limitations as grotesquely as your elderly neighbor who likes to towel off in their front window. Duggan can only throw the ball in the flat, or deep, and neither as well as backup Chandler Morris (#14). His field vision is not such that he sees when a receiver will be open but only those currently open, explaining his dawdles in the pocket long enough that camera operators start to doze off until he’s sacked. Duggan is an excellent runner, when he has running backs to support him, but as Zach Evans (#6) has been completely missing in action for half the season and Kendre Miller (#33) limited, his scrambling has been easily stymied by even the most pedestrian of defenses.
The Frogs offense turned the ball over on downs twice against Iowa State. Two times this offensive unit couldn’t convert one yard when it meant continuing the drive. Punter Jordy Sandy (#31) also suffered an ugly block in between, which left fans — and coaches, presumably — helpless on final downs knowing there wasn’t an option safe to utilize. Coach Jerry Kill was even relegated to trying to pass the ball with Duggan on fourth and 1 because the running game — without Evans and Miller — is so hapless.
Friday wasn’t an isolated circumstance. TCU failed a fourth and short against Kansas the week before and twice more against Kansas State. All three turnovers on downs against the Sunflower State were within the opponents 10 yard-line. These Frogs also failed a fourth-down conversion each against OU and OSU, respectively. You can even turn the clock back to West Virginia when they failed twice at short yardage or even further back to SMU — a one-possession loss — when they did it again. All in all, the Frogs surrendered the ball on downs 10 times this season, which was good enough for 112th in the country on fourth down.
The offensive production, on the surface, doesn’t appear entirely shoddy compared to some years past. TCU was fourth in the conference and 37th in the country in scoring offense (total yards gained). Whoopty-freakin-do. Games aren’t scored based on yards but off points, where Kill and Doug Meacham’s offense ranked 67th. The Frogs scored a single point more than UNT’s Mean Green, who are bowl eligible after this weekend thanks to upsetting the undefeated UTSA Roadrunners 45-23 in Denton. If it seemed like the Frogs were consistently moving the ball but not scoring so much, you needn’t look past their red-zone scoring rank, which plummets again to 76th in the nation.
Defensively, the rankings are a stain on what the Frog program has been built on during the Patterson tenure. TCU’s stoppers finished 119th in total and scoring defense, besting only one Texas-based team: the brainiacs from Rice University. Despite how abhorrent these statistics are, I’ll maintain until my dying breath that this season — and maybe even Patterson’s purple reign — could have been salvaged with an offense that could have just done the boring things well and been clutch half the time. The final conference standings are a dead heat with TCU’s previously worst year in the Big 12 — 2019 — finishing third to last and missing bowl eligibility by one game, landing ahead of only Tech and Kansas both times.
Over the last decade — since winning the Rose Bowl in 2010 — TCU’s recruiting prowess has remained steady. Patterson’s most meager haul of talent was ranked 43rd in the nation and his most prominent 21st, with most classes grading out approximately 30th. The overall uptick in recruiting yielded several years of outstanding results (when the offense was great) but recent mediocrity. Last year’s rankings showed a clearly negative trend, with Fort Worth attracting only the 53rd best class in FBS, two spots behind crosstown SMU. Understandably, there aren’t a lot of commitments currently on the books, and as TCU’s coaching staff is rebuilding, their 2022 class is in the toilet with a 101st ranking. This shouldn’t cause fans too much consternation yet as players generally commit to coaches, and — like the stock market — uncertainty drives down values.
At this moment, Sonny Dykes, formerly of the SMU Mustangs, has just been confirmed as the new head coach of the Frogs. We’ll tackle the hire, my grade, and what fans can expect as Highland Park’s Judas returns to campus. Every Frog fan hopes Dykes can earn TCU’s way back onto Santa football’s nice list or at least earn an invitation to the Hallmark Channel Bowl.