A month ago, when TCU wasn’t among the Top 4 teams in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, I wrote that there was still good news for TCU.
Win them all, TCU, and there’s no way the committee can keep you out without looking so utterly disingenuous it’ll remove any thin veil of bias against non-blue blood programs.
Now, going 13-0 and actually DOING it are two different things. Going undefeated in college football is as difficult as it gets. You have to be a great team. Some things also have to go your way too. That’s why there are only two going into the CFP and Bowl Season — Georgia and Michigan.
TCU lost its chance to control its destiny with its overtime loss to Kansas State on Saturday. For the second straight year, the Big 12 staged an epic championship game that had everything. Like last year, it was the most compelling title game of the day.
But did it deep-six the Horned Frogs’ hopes? That’s what some wondered after the game. The question was asked multiple times. The ghosts of 2014 were flying around AT&T Stadium. The TCU fans in attendance and around the country remember what happened. TCU wasn’t a name-brand program like Oklahoma and Texas. The perception — and some might say the reality — is that a program like TCU wouldn’t get any slack.
Looking to the Past
TCU head coach Sonny Dykes wasn’t anywhere near Fort Worth in 2014. He was the head coach at Cal, watching from afar. But in just a year in Fort Worth, he learned just how much scar tissue remained from that 2014 selection Sunday — when TCU fell from No. 3 to No. 6 despite winning its season finale.
“You go back to 2014 and TCU has been through this, you know?” Dykes said. “TCU lost a close game to Baylor in 2014 and they didn’t have a conference championship game at that time. And I really do believe that was a different time in college football. I believe that the Big 12 is in a different place now than it was then. I just think that they’re gonna see it different but at the same time you just don’t know. So I’m concerned obviously.”
The concern faded on Sunday when TCU was selected No. 3 for the College Football Playoff and will play No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The Horned Frogs are the second Big 12 team to make the playoff.
Every TCU coach and player that spoke to the media on Saturday believed they deserved to be selected. So did Kansas State coach Chris Klieman, who should know better than anyone. His Wildcats split their two meetings with the Horned Frogs.
Perhaps that’s the key, some eight years later — the Big 12 Championship Game. It was the”13th data point,” as former commissioner Bob Bowlsby put it, that the league needed. It’s just that since that fateful Sunday in 2014, no one was able to climb the mountain past Oklahoma, which owned the league’s other four playoff appearances (all of which came with OU winning the Big 12 title).
Today’s Big 12 Conference
But, it’s like Dykes said. The Big 12 is a different place now. The league’s last two Big 12 Championship games have been played without the blue-bloods that are headed to the SEC — Oklahoma and Texas. And one could argue those two games — including last year’s Baylor-Oklahoma State matchup — were two of the most compelling since the championship game was reimplemented.
Getting that title game back was designed to do exactly this — enhance a Big 12 team’s case for the playoff. TCU’s loss did it in an unexpected way. The Horned Frogs put together an undefeated regular season and, because the Big 12’s schedule is unique on the Power 5 landscape, they were the only undefeated team that could say they beat every team in their conference.
There was no shame in losing to Kansas State in overtime, a 10-win team that will play in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. There was no shame in how it happened, either, with TCU rallying from 11 points down on the back of quarterback Max Duggan to force overtime.
There’s no shame in losing one game, either — or at least there shouldn’t be in this four-team format. In the BCS era, one loss could end your chance of reaching the title game. But, with four teams, one loss should not deep-six you.
TCU earned its way in. TCU is deserving of this opportunity. The Horned Frogs are one of the best four teams in the country and the program’s 5-1 record against ranked teams reflects that. Is it out of the blue? You bet. But then again, the best stories usually are.
Eight years later, the Big 12’s decision to push to get its championship game back — despite not having a divisional format — has finally positioned someone other than Oklahoma to contend for a national title.
With an expanded playoff format coming and the ‘Hateful Eight’ in a race to be the dominant program in the Big 12 once OU and Texas leave, this doesn’t seem like a fluke.
This seems like the next logical step after TCU’s undefeated Rose Bowl run before joining the Big 12 and its near-miss in 2014.
For the Big 12, this is the next step in life without OU and Texas.
Honestly? It feels good.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard