We’re going to know quickly whether Gary Patterson’s TCU Horned Frogs can make a serious dark horse push for the College Football Playoff. After a tuneup win over Southern this past weekend, TCU faces the following—a Friday night road game with SMU (8 PM ET, ESPN), a bowl team from last year, that sets the stage for a monster showdown with Ohio State the following week in prime-time at Dallas. After the Buckeyes leave the Lone Star state, TCU has to immediately regroup and go to Texas on September 22.
There’s no time to grow and develop and unfortunately for Horned Frog fans, that’s what the TCU offense needs right now. Patterson brought in some of his most talented recruits at running back and wide receiver and he’s got a couple good young options at quarterback. But the offensive line is being rebuilt and it may be into October before this Horned Frog attack starts humming at the level needed to beat quality opposition (okay, whether Texas is “quality opposition” is subject to reasonable dispute at the moment, but the Longhorns are talented).
Patterson’s calling card in Fort Worth has long been the defense and the good news is that this side of the ball is ready for prime-time. The defensive line in particular looks really good. Ben Banogu, Corey Bethley and Ross Blacklock lead a four-man front that’s the best in the Big 12. It will be very interesting to see how they match up with Ohio State in the trenches in a couple weeks.
TCU has been pounding the door of greatness for several years now. They’ve been to three major bowl games under Patterson since 2009 and won two of them. They shared the Big 12 title in 2014 and had a lot of people arguing they deserved a Playoff berth in that season. They went 10-2 in the regular season last year and qualified for the Big 12 Championship Game. That was a loss to Oklahoma, but the Horned Frogs then turned around and got a bowl win over Stanford. They’re collecting quality scalps and as long as the Texas program remains in dysfunction, TCU is the most consistent challenger to OU in this league.
Having said all that, it looks like next season might be a better one to target if you’re talking about reaching the Playoff. To do that this year, a young team would have to find a way to split between Ohio State and Oklahoma (October 20) and still run the table the rest of the way, including a November trip to West Virginia. That’s asking too much.
What is realistic is aiming for another New Year’s Six bowl bid. A nine-win regular season puts TCU in contention and a ten-win campaign almost certainly does it. We’ll find out over these next three weeks what realistic expectations will be for this overachieving program.
If the most important number in college football is “4” for the number of Playoff spots, the second-most important number is “11”, for the number of spots that power conference teams can take in the big New Year’s Six games (the 12th spot going to the highest-rated mid-major). As such, TheSportsNotebook will release its Top 11 after each week’s games, along with a pick for the 12th spot, and then see how that’s likely to translate into major bowl matchups. Here’s my first rankings…
The 12th: Boise State
PROJECTED MAJOR BOWL MATCHUPS
Cotton (CFP): Alabama-Georgia
Orange (CFP): Ohio State-Clemson
Fiesta: Boise State-Virginia Tech
Peach: Penn State-Notre Dame