TCU has suddenly jumped into the middle of the biggest debate in college football.
Who are the four best teams?
Tuesday night, the Horned Frogs became one of the answers.
TCU joined Mississippi State, Oregon and Florida State in the College Football Playoff committee’s top four, beating out teams such as Alabama and Ohio State.
Just 4-8 last year and middle-of-the-road for two years in the Big 12, the Frogs have gotten not only to the top of their conference, but they are also sitting at a table with some of the nation’s biggest and most traditional powers.
That was quick.
“TCU’s always been included,” safety Chris Hackett said Tuesday morning before the rankings were released. “I think we just fell off the grid a little bit last year. I think we’re just getting back to where we can go.”
Where the Horned Frogs can go — where they hope to go — is the national semifinals. They and No. 7 Baylor, the only team that has beaten them this season, are the Big 12’s best hopes for putting a representative in the College Football Playoff, the four-team tournament that will crown a national champion in January.
TCU coach Gary Patterson reacted by text: “My thoughts? We need to finish the journey!”
Do the Frogs belong in the playoff, or do the Bears?
It’s the great debate, and the Frogs have made themselves part of it with an 8-1 start, for at least another week.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of us on this team, growing up, we always wanted to be one of those teams that are always talked about or top-ranked in the country,” receiver David Porter said. “So, yeah, it’s a great feeling. But we’ve just got to keep winning.”
TCU has climbed higher than expected.
The upset of Oklahoma to begin the conference schedule started the rise. It continued despite the fourth-quarter unraveling at Baylor because the Frogs then routed Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, pulled out a gritty win at West Virginia and then, last week, systematically dismantled former conference leader Kansas State.
That’s why the Horned Frogs, who began the season unranked in both the coaches’ and AP polls, have not left the conversation. Their body of work has impressed the selection committee.
“Last year, we weren’t even being talked about,” Hackett said. “I don’t think anyone would have been thinking we would have had this type of year.”
No one on the team was planning to watch the CFP rankings come out Tuesday night. Practice wraps up about the time the announcement show airs on ESPN, but the rankings never stay unknown for long.
“Well, one of the things we wanted to become was relevant again,” Patterson said at his weekly press conference Tuesday before the rankings were released. “I’m proud of my kids, the university, the city and all the rest of it.”
Patterson understands the company his Frogs are keeping. They are in a mix of eight to 10 teams that have legitimate aspirations for a national championship.
“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due,” he said. “There’s a lot of good football teams out there.
“You’ve got to be positive with what they’re doing at Mississippi State. They’ve taken a lot of different criticism, but Florida State is still winning. Oregon, Arizona State — you just look at those top eight. At any point in time, any one of them could beat any one of them if they had to go play.
“Some years, you can tell it’s just two. You know there’s nobody even close to them.”
This is not one of those years. The Frogs and a lot of other good teams are part of the big debate.
“It’s pretty big, but you know what? I think it’ll be even better if we finish out strong and get this next win,” Hackett said.
Said Patterson: “The only way we can be in consideration is to win the last three.”
But even if they lose the debate — if they stumble in one of the next three games, or they win out and just fall out of the top four — the Frogs have come a long way. They are on a ride.
“I’ve watched all the banter between TCU and Baylor; bottom line is, I saw something Mack Brown tweeted out — we both need to enjoy the ride,” Patterson said. “To me, you’ve got two really good football teams. They’ve got a really good football team with an excellent coach. We’ve got a really good football team, both in the state of Texas. They just need to enjoy the ride.
“Hopefully we can both win out, win three games and have an opportunity to go do something like that.”
The Frogs have a case to make — for at least another week.