The Frogs have one shot, one opportunity, to grab everything they’ve ever wanted in 60 minutes. Will they capture it, or just let it slip? Sonny Dykes has seemingly done the impossible by leading these Frogs to their first undefeated regular season in the CFP era. No one expected this to happen. This roster — mostly recruited by former coach Gary Patterson — was picked to finish seventh in the conference and missed a bowl entirely last season. Fast-forward 12 games, and Max Duggan (#15) is an anticipated invitee to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, and his Frogs have exorcized all the demons and doubters, except for two.
Those loyal to the Frogs — for even a decade — aren’t comfortable. We can’t be. There’s too much deja vu afoot for even a moment of peace heading into the Big 12 championship game against Kansas State on Saturday morning. Granted, watching Duggan and friends absolutely curbstomp Iowa State Saturday afternoon was a welcome reprieve from the hypertensive season we’ve witnessed thus far, but the last Frog squad with a legitimate shot at the playoff beat the Cyclones even more handily (55-3) in the final game of their season. These squads have an essential difference between them — a loss against Baylor by the ’14 squad versus an unblemished record this year — but it’s important context for understanding why this Saturday’s game exists at all.
Back in 2014 — the inaugural transition to a playoff and away from the BCS title game — the Frogs fell to the fifth-ranked Bears in Waco during the second game of conference play. The Bears followed their emotional victory by falling to unranked West Virginia in Morgantown the next week. Both teams would win their remaining games and sit, after Week 12, ranked third (TCU) and sixth (Baylor). Despite the head-to-head loss, the committee gave the Frogs credit for losing only a close game to a highly ranked team rather than a multi-possession loss to an unranked one. Between the Fort Worth and Waco squads in the rankings were Florida State and Ohio State at fourth and fifth, respectively. Both those teams went on to win their conference championship games while the Frogs and Bears split the conference title as co-champions. Despite the ’14 squad’s dismantling of Iowa State, they dropped to sixth in the final rankings, and the Bears climbed a spot to fifth while the Seminoles (who were undefeated) and the Buckeyes (who lost to an unranked Virginia Tech squad in Columbus during Week 2) were selected to participate in the first playoff. Ohio State would advance by beating Alabama and eventually Oregon in the National Championship.
It was that confluence of events that caused the Big 12 to muse reintroducing the Big 12 championship game that was axed in 2010 after the great exodus of Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas A&M, all of whom were apparently tired of their spouses telling them what to do and decided to go live in their single friend’s basement to experience their dreams of backpacking penniless through Europe or some other Instagram-era nonsense. Their desertion left the Big 12 with a 10-team round-robin divisionless league in which all teams would play one another every season (the only Power 5 conference structured this way). It is also therefore the only conference in which the championship matchup is, by design, always going to be against the two best teams and a rematch. It’s possible for this to happen among the other four conferences but not predicated by design. It was agreed back in 2014 that the lack of a 13th data point is what kept either the Frogs or Bears from reaching the playoffs, so in the interest of conference competitiveness — and, of course, money — the league brought the game back in 2017. This greediness and reactivity are the last major roadblocks for TCU becoming the first Texas-based team to reach true national relevance.
Maddeningly, the Funkytowners have impressed the national audience enough at this point with their unblemished season that they would probably be selected as fourth place should they be crowned Big 12 champions right now, which, in truth, they already are by virtue of having already bested everyone else. The very structure of the conference and the shortsightedness of its administration could very well be what keeps the Frogs from representing all of the competitive goodness that the rest of the country has taken notice of this year.
Some pundits are speculating that Dykes’ boys have done enough to be included win or lose on Saturday — they’re wrong. Our old nemesis Ohio State is lying in wait and will be ranked either fourth or fifth by the selection committee. Despite OSU’s 22-point home loss to Michigan, the cartel of blind men running things would like nothing more than for TCU — and, for that measure, USC — to lose so they can slip the Buckeyes in their place. All the blue bloods will be clutching their voodoo dolls of Duggan and OU-turned-USC quarterback Caleb Williams, hoping that they can justify inserting the obviously flawed Ohio State and Alabama squads (neither of which is playing for their conference) so people living in flyover states can remain in their comfort zones.
I’m not trying to add pressure to a situation that is a powder keg already, but a victory over Kansas State on Saturday means everything: TCU’s first sole Big 12 conference title, Duggan’s invitation to New York, and elevated future recruiting. An undefeated regular season is a magnificent accomplishment, and fans — and, y’know, the team — should relish every minute, but it’s perhaps a false summit leading to this moment when TCU can establish itself as a preeminent college football program nationally and all the spoils that come along with that. Curiously, college football seems to be the only sport where everyone hates an underdog. TCU is that, and Hypnotoad is an affront to the system that has been created and is trying to be further consolidated by introducing megaconferences.
TCU is a 2.5-point favorite over the Wildcats on Saturday in Arlington. So much has been accomplished in Dykes’ first year, but if they can’t keep the winning alive, postmodern poet and philosopher Marshall Mathers III said it best: “Snap, back to reality.”