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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Sloppy T.C.U. Moves Onto the Big 12

Prior to last night, T.C.U. hadn’t faced a current member of the WAC since leaving that conference for the Mountain West in 2001. It’s just a thought, but the Horned Frogs might want to begin a similar streak of WAC-free existence once the program moves to the Big 12 next fall. It was the story of two teams, as every game is, but with a different feel: one team, Louisiana Tech, was clearly looking at the Poinsettia Bowl as an opportunity. T.C.U., on the other hand, seemed less than enthused.

For the majority of three quarters, you couldn’t help by wonder: the Horned Frogs haven’t mailed in a game like this since… when? Since before Gary Patterson rode into town 11 years ago, one can safely assume, since much of last night’s performance resembled nothing of the vintage football the Horned Frogs have played under his direction.

The first half was plagued by penalties. A pair on offense called back two long runs, extinguishing any sense of momentum T.C.U. might have taken out of the locker room. Even if the Horned Frogs stormed back to tie the game at 10-10 at the half, Louisiana Tech could hold its head high after 30 minutes.

T.C.U. took a 17-10 lead on the first drive of the third quarter, rolling 55 yards on 11 plays, capping the drive with a one-yard Matthew Tucker touchdown run. After forcing Louisiana Tech into a punt on the ensuing possession, it seemed as if the Horned Frogs has righted the ship.

But a muffed punt gave the Bulldogs possession deep inside T.C.U. territory; it also changed the complexion of the game, returning momentum back in Tech’s favor and putting the onus on a T.C.U. offense that largely failed to match the standard at which it played much of the regular season.

The turnover — Brandon Carter fumbled the punt — led to 14 straight points by the Rebels, giving Tech a 24-17 lead entering the fourth quarter. That seven-point advantage held until the midway point of the fourth, when the light turned on for the T.C.U. offense.

The Horned Frogs’ two fourth quarter scores illustrated the team’s offensive flexibility. The first, which tied the game at 24-24, featured a stretch of 10 carries in 11 plays: Tucker and Waymon James shared the wealth, with a dash of Casey Pachall thrown in for good measure, and it seemed to take the wind out of Tech’s sails on defense.

After the Bulldogs were forced into a quick punt, T.C.U. went through the air. It was Pachall, who ended the game 15 of 29 for 206 yards, finding Syke Dawson, the team’s second-leading receiver, for a 41-yard touchdown — T.C.U. 31, Louisiana Tech 24.

After three fumbling, bumbling, not T.C.U.-like quarters, the Horned Frogs found their rhythm. In doing so, T.C.U. heads into the winter on an eight-game winning streak; in addition, the Horned Frogs head into the Big 12 on a high note.

It wasn’t the prettiest win, and no, it wasn’t the prettiest season — by the program’s recent standard, at least. But the Big 12 should pay attention: before dismissing T.C.U. on the heels of a Poinsettia Bowl win over Louisiana Tech, remember that this team got its growing pains out of the way before making a B.C.S.-sized leap.

Pachall, who last night broke Andy Dalton’s school record for completions in a season, will only be a junior. Dawson will be a senior; leading receiver Josh Boyce will be a junior. The entire backfield will be back in the fold. It’s the defense that will face some questions, especially after a disappointing season, but next year’s group can only be better.

And there’s little doubt that T.C.U. will be enthused come next September, when the Horned Frogs enter a whole new ballgame. No more upstarts, no more underdogs, no more Cinderella: T.C.U. will be part of the upper class, and the Big 12 is not kind to teams who bring anything less than a supreme effort every Saturday.

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  1. BobJ says:

    Doesn’t the Big 12 have only nine teams so far for next year? That is where Boise State should be playing.

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    @BobJ – West Va. is #10 if they get their litigation with the Big East resolved. I agree about Big 12 adding BSU and BYU or AFA to get to 12.

  3. BobJ says:

    Right about the litigation, but I’m not counting on it working in WVa’s favor.

  4. Lee says:

    If they could add Boise St and Air Force the Big 12 would be very solid.

  5. Burnt Orange says:

    @Lee – there are any number of things the Big 12 could or should have done but did not over the past decade to solidify things. The biggest problem is that Texas wants a bigger piece of the pie. Whenever, members of any group are treated differently – whether it be a conference, team, law firm, or society, the members stop thinking in terms of what is in the best interests of their group and they start thinking and acting selfishly. A lot easier to get to get everyone behind the Big 12 network than the LHN.

    Now the conference is still very good and adding TCU and WVU helps a bunch. Do not follow the Mountaineers that closely, but i know the Frogs can play and will be very competitive – I think any trip to Morgantown cannot be easy. But the real reason they will not add BSU and AFA is most every member is against dividing the
    current tv contracts into 12 pieces instead of 10. The only reason they added TCU and WVU is the current tv package requires 10 teams to fulfill the game allotments which need to be filled under the contracts.

    So, if you get right down to it, those teams were not added to make the conference any better, they were added to protect a revenue
    stream and future income that some of the schools have already effectively spent – see Iowa St. stadium and facilities expansion for instance.

    Happy Holidays to all.

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