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The Countdown

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

A Retrospective

The Year in Review: T.C.U. (11-2 8-0)

T.C.U. has won 46 games since 2008, the third-most in college football: Boise State has 49 wins, Alabama 47. T.C.U. has won 37 of its last 40 game overall, with losses to Boise State, S.M.U. and Baylor joining wins over… I’m not writing out that list. T.C.U. has won 24 straight games in Mountain West play, the longest current conference winning streak in the F.B.S., and has won three straight M.W.C. titles — the first team in the league’s history to have done so. T.C.U. has won at least 10 games in each of the last four years, matching the program’s previous tally of double-digit win seasons from its inception through 1997, the year before Gary Patterson’s arrival.

Having hit the glass ceiling, having achieved all there is to achieve on the non-B.C.S. conference level, T.C.U. is about to hit the big time. The Horned Frogs are going from AAA to the majors, the Big 12 — via the Big East — and it’s about time.

The program has run out of possible achievements on its checklist: B.C.S. bowls, B.C.S. wins, conference championships, double-digit win seasons, Heisman challengers, Heisman finalists, national relevance and national dominance. Even in 2011, a perceived rebuilding season, the Horned Frogs came within two spots of an automatic B.C.S. invite.

Rebuilding? It seemed that way in August, when T.C.U. faced life without several key contributors behind the program’s Rose Bowl run in 2010, and it seemed that way after the first weekend of October, when a loss to S.M.U. dropped the Horned Frogs to 3-2 overall, 1-0 in the Mountain West.

About two months later, T.C.U. put the finishing touches on a seven-game winning streak with a 56-9 thrashing of U.N.L.V., a game notable for no reason other than Bobby Hauck’s decision — in first the second quarter, then the fourth — to kick a field goal when down 18 and 43 points, respectively.

Add one more win, a 31-24 victory over Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl, and you have the same-old, same-old: 11-2, perfect in conference play. The surprise isn’t that T.C.U. won 11 games, but that it lost two. There is nothing more that this program can accomplish on the non-B.C.S. conference level.

And so the focus turns to 2012, when the Horned Frogs will trade in a conference schedule of San Diego State, Boise State and Wyoming, among others, for a conference schedule of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, among others. The level of competition will take a tremendous jump; can T.C.U. take a corresponding leap forward?

One valuable lesson to take from the last decade of T.C.U. football: don’t ever bet on the Horned Frogs to do anything but live up to — if not exceed — your preseason expectations. And that the Horned Frogs got a rebuilding year, by their standards, out of the way in 2011 means that this program can be viewed as a definite B.C.S. bowl contender in 2012.

And beyond? T.C.U. has already seen the positive ramifications of its move to the Big 12 on the recruiting trail, as Rivals.com has its current class, those prospects that will sign on the dotted line in February, as the 25th-best in the country. Among the program’s 19 current verbal commitments are four of the top 50 players in Texas; in comparison, the Horned Frogs inked only two of the top 50 a year ago.

Clothes don’t make the man — I dress horribly, for example — and conference affiliation doesn’t make the program. But it was time for T.C.U. to make a jump up the prestige ladder, joining a power conference befitting its standing as one of the most powerful and consistent programs in college football. And if this truly was a rebuilding season, the Big 12 needs to watch out.

Season grade: A If this is rebuilding, then sign me up. It’s rebuilding, T.C.U. edition: new quarterback, new offensive line, new receiver corps, new secondary, double-digit wins. Of that group, only the secondary suffered any wide-ranging growing pains. Baylor ripped the defense to shreds in the season opener and S.M.U. did the same a month later, and even in defeat Kellen Moore had his way through the air. The team’s only losses came by a combined nine points, in overtime to the Mustangs and thanks to Robert Griffin III’s late-game brilliance.

High point A 36-35 win at Boise State on Nov. 12, which put an end to the Broncos’ long home winning streak and gave T.C.U. the Mountain West crown. In all, the Horned Frogs had six wins against bowl teams: Boise, Air Force, San Diego State, B.Y.U., Wyoming and Louisiana Tech.

Low point Baylor hurt worse, but S.M.U. was the worse loss. Make sense? In each loss, T.C.U. needed a furious fourth quarter surge to draw within striking distance: 25 unanswered points against the Bears, 16 unanswered points against the Mustangs.

Offensive M.V.P. In August, I worried that back-to-back road games to open the year was the worst thing that could happen to Casey Pachall, T.C.U.’s first-year starting quarterback: it’s better to lean into starting duties than be forced to hit the ground running. No worries. Pachall went toe-to-toe with Griffin and never let up, eventually breaking a handful of school passing records and putting himself into the Heisman mix heading into next season.

Defensive M.V.P. Tank Carder was also the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, joining Kirk Morrison, Eric Weddle and Jerry Hughes as the conference’s only back-to-back winners. Carder anchored an otherwise disappointing defense — by the program’s recent standard — while continuing to make big plays: he returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns.

Stock watch Off the field, T.C.U. is climbing fast. The move to the Big 12 immediately validates what the program has achieved over the last decade under Patterson: the Big 12 was not inviting lambs to the slaughter, but rather teams with a bright present and promising future. And that the league waffled on T.C.U.’s inclusion — that programs were scared, in short — says more about the Horned Frogs’ potential than anything. What about the on-field product? Pachall is back, the receiver corps is back, the backfield is back, the line is back and so on down the line. If the Horned Frogs can button things up along the back seven on defense it can reach the Fiesta Bowl in 2012.

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Comments

  1. Parker says:

    Hi Paul

    TCU really capitalized on Baylor, SMU and Rice being generally terrible in football for a decade circa 1999-2008. TCU was the only Texas school in that time that could offer winning football and a private school education to the wealth of talent in this state. Now the Frogs have it cranked up.

    Bottom line, Gary Patterson is the nuts. As are TCU’s stadium renovations. And the 4-2-5 is suited to stopping Big 12 offenses.

    With Texas Tech trending down, Baylor unable to stop anybody and Texas struggling since the loss of coordinators Greg Davis and Will Muschamp, TCU should be in excellent shape to contend for the Big 12 title against OU and Oklahoma State.

    The Big 12 just became a tougher football conference with the TCU for A&M trade.

    Parker

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    The Southwest Conference is 7-0 in bowl games.

    The Big 12 traded up getting the Frogs and Mountaineers for Mizzou and A&M.

    Parker, I generally agree with you but Texas struggling has nothing to do with losing Muschamp and Davis. Penalties, turnovers, and a painful, but long overdue transition to run between the tackles, kick your ass offensive football has made for a difficult couple of years but better days are ahead for Texas.

  3. Ezra says:

    TCU in 2011 was a very young team. It will still be relatively young in 2012, especially in the secondary.

    But is there a better set of skill players in the Big12 than Pachall handing off to Waymon James or throwing to Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter?

  4. Silas says:

    TCU is a great program. They’re also a mid-major that has the budget of an AQ school at over $20 million per year. They have been a Big 12 school in every way but actual conference affiliation for some time now. The Horned Frogs will do just fine next season…

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