Flying under the radar of a Week 6 that includes SECmageddon and opened with Arizona’s shake-up of the College Football Playoff picture is TCU-Oklahoma. That this showdown of undefeated and nationally ranked Big 12 teams has taken something of a backseat speaks to the tough road Gary Patterson’s program has been on since joining the conference in 2012.
Ironically, TCU had a more visible national profile before it joined a power conference. TCU took Boise State’s as the preeminent non-BCS program in its last two seasons in the Mountain West, winning the Rose Bowl to cap the 2010 season and snapping the Broncos’ win streak on the Smurf Turf in 2011.
The Horned Frogs’ win at Boise State in November 2011 added to what was the nation’s longest win streak heading into the 2012 campaign, and served as the perfect springboard into TCU’s new existence as a power-conference program. The Frogs emphatically declared their place on the food chain and were off to conquer the next challenge.
But, as fellow former Mountain West powerhouse Utah is learning in the Pac-12, there’s some truth to that idea of the week-to-week grind in a power conference taking its toll. TCU finished just 7-6, its worst record since 2004, and was below .500 in the Big 12.
A loss at home to Oklahoma by one touchdown in the regular season finale put TCU on the wrong side of the dividing line.
The Sooners return to Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth Saturday with designs on the No. 1 ranking. Oklahoma is likely to steal some first place votes in the AP Poll with a win and if everything else on the day is chalk. The Sooners are in line for the top spot overall with a W and some more chaos similar to what unfolded in Autzen Stadium being unleashed around the nation.
Let TCU’s 4-8 overall and 2-7 Big 12 finish a year ago cloud your judgment and pencil this in as another Sooners win. Oklahoma has beaten TCU in every meeting since the Frogs’ 2005 upset, after all.
But Bob Stoops is going to have pull out his Big Game persona for TCU-Oklahoma, because this contest has far-reaching implications for the Sooners’ Big 12 and national championship stock.
It also has a decidedly Admiral Ackbar feel to it.
Overlooking TCU is understandable, as it seems much of the nation is doing so. The Frogs barely slipped into this week’s rankings at No. 25, in part due to sprinkling in routs of FCS Samford and an SMU team in need of an iron lung among two bye weeks.
TCU’s third win, a thoroughly dominant deconstruction of a good Minnesota bunch, failed to generate much fanfare. Despite its 4-1 record and marked improvement under Jerry Kill, well…it’s still Minnesota.
Indeed, TCU has failed to build much buzz through its first two years as a Big 12 program. But Patterson seems to be confident that the Horned Frogs are getting up to speed.
“I do believe we have good enough players to win Big 12 ballgames. I said it takes three to five years, and we are in our third year,” he said via ESPN.com’s Jake Trotter.
Winning Big 12 ballgames is an admirable goal, and necessary given the program’s 6-12 record against the conference the last two years. Winning THE Big 12 ball game against one of the league’s preeminent members would thrust TCU back into the national spotlight.
Beating Oklahoma Saturday would be the reward for sustaining so many lumps in 2012 and 2013, particularly at quarterback. TCU came into the Big 12 with high hopes thanks in part to big-armed Casey Pachall.
Pachall’s off-field issues and subsequent injury threw a wrench into the Frog offense that was never quite removed. Trevone Boykin never quite seemed comfortable filling in for Pachall out of necessity in 2012 and struggled mightily while also playing some wide receiver in 2013.
But through three games this year, Boykin is playing with a new confidence and the offense is better geared for using his dual-threat playmaking ability. Patterson even compared Boykin’s maturation to that of Andy Dalton, the face of TCU’s national ascent in the late 2000s and 2010, via Carlos Mendez of the Star-Telegram:
Andy Dalton went through it as a freshman, too. When you first step on a college stage and you’re throwing for a lot of yards, you’ve got to understand that it doesn’t matter that you did all that. There’s still a lot of people that worked awfully hard that don’t get the accolades. Andy really matured, and I think Trevone has stepped forward.
Boykin has actually put up superior statistics when compared to Oklahoma’s own dual-threat quarterback, preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Trevor Knight. Boykin has thrown for 858 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception, while completing 64 percent of his attempts; Knight has 1,065 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, and completed 59 percent of his attempts.
Boykin has 183 yards rushing and three touchdowns; Knight has 69 yards with two touchdowns.
Of course, the supporting cast around Knight takes some of the onus off him. After struggling initially upon joining the Big 12, this year is TCU’s opportunity to look more like the great Frog defenses of the past.
A TCU run defense ranked No. 15 nationally must find a way to contain breakout Sooner star and running back Samaje Perine. Perine is on his way to replacing Knight as the Sooners’ Heisman contender, coming off a 242-yard and four-touchdown effort at West Virginia.
Linebacker Paul Dawson and Perine should provide some fireworks. Dawson could use some help in bringing down the 240-plus-pound Perine, and doing so is key to slowing the Oklahoma offense–and slowing the Oklahoma offense is key to TCU really planting its flag as a force in the Big 12.