One of my favorite memories of my late father was accompanying him to the State Fair of Texas and watching him win me prizes from carnival games. Granted, these games weren’t designed for patrons to win, but my dad, having always said that great pool ability was the sign of a misspent youth, was awesome at winning the billiards contest. At this point, Sonny Dykes’ Frogs are carney callers encouraging the next schlub to step right up. Opponents look on thinking to themselves, “That doesn’t look so hard, we can win that” before leaving with fewer dollars and zero stuffed animals to show for their efforts.
Until now, it’s all been reservations regarding the Frogs on the national scene. TCU can play offense, but their defense allows them to sink into early holes. They can come from behind, but can they dominate from wire to wire? TCU can win a boat race, but what if their offense struggles and they need to defer to their defense? What happens when Gary Patterson helps a team game plan against a squad he recruited? Virtually all those doubts were cast asunder in Austin when Dykes and company won their second appearance on College Gameday this season while not allowing the Longhorns a single offensive touchdown.
The Hypnotoads never trailed on Saturday. Granted, no one scored any points until late in the second quarter. Texas never even tied the game. The entire contest felt like a mucky SEC trench battle where the first team to flinch was going to lose, and it became exactly that. Neither offense was particularly overbearing in the Weird City. The only impressive stat line belonged to Kendre Miller (#33), who ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and finished with 138 yards on the ground. Miller’s partner in the backfield, Emari Demercado (#3), rushed for 65 yards and was instrumental in icing the game late in the fourth quarter. The only Frog misstep besides a missed field goal was from an uncharacteristic fumble between Miller and Max Duggan (#15) from their read exchange that led to a scoop-and-score for the Longhorns. TCU’s backfield — obviously combined with their defense — balked at the punditry proclaiming Bijan Robinson (#5) as the best running back in the nation (something the Gameday staff said more than once). Robinson finished with 29 yards and a yards-per-carry average less than half of what both Miller and Demercado logged.
Dykes’ 10th consecutive victory brought a new reservation for the Frogs: Dec. 3 in the Big 12 championship game in Arlington. The Frogs are alone atop the conference and don’t need to play another down of football to compete for the conference title. Their opponent is to be determined, but Kansas State controls their destiny, with UT hoping the lesser-purple frontrunner stumbles during their final two games against West Virginia and Kansas.
TCU’s season doesn’t become more difficult this week per se, but with every step toward a perfect season and corresponding playoff berth, the potholes become deeper and tougher to spot. Waiting in Waco are the Baylor Bears, and this one should frighten everyone more than the Horns. Why should the all-powerful Frogs fear a trip down I-35 against a bunch of bear cubs who just lost 31-3 against Kansas State? Revenge. In not such a distant universe — just more than a year ago, in fact — a bounce-back Baylor was working on a gem of a one-loss season that would eventually result in a conference championship, Sugar Bowl victory over Ole Miss, and fifth-place final ranking. The Frogs, with an interim head coach, spoiled their outside hopes of a playoff appearance with a 30-28 victory in Fort Worth.
The pure beauty of college football is also what makes it so unbearable: chaos, unrest, and unbridled volatility. If you want advanced stats and metrics to be correct 99% of the time, pro sports are for you. If you want Texas A&M to pay their coach 95 million bones while bagging the top recruiting class just to win three games, then feel the warm embrace of college pigskin surround you before it shanks you in the kidney with a rusty sliver of rebar.
Luckily, it doesn’t seem like Dykes is struggling to maintain focus in his locker room, and there’s nothing for these Frogs to look forward to at the moment. TCU needs to win every game for a chance to break into the playoffs, and they know it. Dave Aranda might be the best coach in the conference — no offense to Dykes, but the sample size simply isn’t large enough — and his players have nothing left to play for except ruining TCU’s season, as the Toads essentially did the same to them last year. Baylor is also the oldest rival to the Horned Frogs. The two have played 117 times, which is tied for the 25th most consistent rivalry in college football, just one game fewer than Texas-OU and the same as Michigan-Ohio State. Aranda, despite his many talents, is 0-2 against less potent Frog teams, and despite the Bears’ steady improvement during the midseason, it doesn’t seem like they’ll have the firepower to overcome TCU’s newly dominant defense if they play similarly to last Saturday.
It was clear from the outlandish 7-point-underdog spread against Texas that the wagering dollars were doubting TCU. The sentiment is swinging toward the Frogs as they are 3-point favorites at Baylor. The Revivalry — a cute little nod to each school’s religious affiliation — will host Fox Sports’ Big Noon Kickoff. This will be the Frogs’ fourth game this season to be featured on a major preview show, and Funkytown fans are, and should be, holding their collective breath a bit. But it deserves to be acknowledged that the greatness of college football is the instability and unknown. If you want your team to be able to lose and still be in consideration to win it all, do all of the happy masochists a favor and pack in your anxieties and wait for pitchers and catchers to report for spring training.