For weeks, TCU football fans had been reminded of 2014.
Now they are again.
The 2014 Horned Frogs suffered one loss, rebounded to win out and earned consideration for the College Football Playoff.
Can the 2017 Frogs do the same?
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But three years ago, an 11-1 regular season and Big 12 co-championship proved to be no sure ticket to the CFP. And it won’t be this year, either, even if TCU were to take out Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Baylor and whoever in the Big 12 title game.
But it’s the only road that gives them a chance at the final four after Saturday’s 14-7 loss at Iowa State.
“Got to be a hungry football team,” running back Kyle Hicks said. “A team that’s not willing to back down from anything, just come out ready to play and give it our all every game from here on out.”
The playoff is where every team wants to be.
But a Big 12 title — even an appearance in the Big 12 title game — would be no small thing for a TCU team coming off a 6-7 year, and it’s very much in play. Saturday is the mulligan coach Gary Patterson talked about, leaving the Frogs still with a share of first place.
In fact, it’s a four-team, four-game sprint to the finish, and the first two to the tape get to go to Arlington.
“We’ve got goals that we’re climbing to get,” cornerback Jeff Gladney said.
The team motto, “Eyes Up, Keep Climbing,” fits more than ever.
“We’re just looking up, never looking down,” Gladney said. “Everything we need to get is up.”
Some other observations from Saturday in Ames:
1. Whatever Kenny Hill had been doing to put together a really nice season, he stopped doing Saturday. Actually, it’s no mystery what he stopped doing. His accuracy and decision-making suddenly blew up. On a second-and-13 on the first drive, he opted for a deep ball to a well-covered Jalen Reagor when a tight end was by himself in the middle of the field for the first down. His third-quarter pass at the goal line to KaVontae Turpin, simply put, was nowhere near him. In the fourth quarter, he fumbled on a sack in the red zone when he didn’t protect the ball on the way to the ground, after first not throwing it away to save the field goal. There were other moments. It was his first bad game. Why it came out of nowhere is the real mystery.
2. Don’t spend any more time thinking about a quarterback change. Shawn Robinson is a terrific athlete on the way to being next year’s quarterback, but Hill still gives the Frogs the better chance to win now. It would be wrong to ask a true freshman to beat the Texas defense then go win at Oklahoma and Texas Tech, plus a rivalry game against Baylor, all with the conference championship and College Football Playoff hopes of an entire team, coaching staff, university and its fans on the line. It would necessarily mean lowered expectations. Doubt anybody’s ready for that. “He’s doing good,” Hicks said of Hill. “We all got behind him in the locker room, told him that we’re going to bounce back. He agreed.”
3. The loss of center Patrick Morris finally caught up with the offensive line. His physicality will be welcome when he returns, which could be this week, according to the timeline offered by Patterson after the Oklahoma State game. Morris’ return would mean everyone can go back to their original roles — Austin Schlottman to right guard, and Matt Pryor to right tackle. If that’s in place, the right side of the line moves closer to becoming the formidable unit it was in the first four games. TCU hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher since.
4. Gary Patterson continues to enhance his reputation for halftime adjustments. The defense pitched a shutout in the second half against Iowa State, allowing only 40 yards, more than setting the stage for a comeback. Afterward, Patterson said he was proud of that unit, and he should have been. “The guys did a better job of tackling, and we defended the pass,” he said. “We moved Ranthony Texada and Jeff Gladney around. We put Gladney on Allen Lazard. Had the interception. Knocked some balls down. We started doing what we said we had to do. We contested shots.” It was impressive work, overshadowed by defeat.
5. TCU did not out-athlete Iowa State. That hasn’t been the case for a lot of years, so it makes sense if the Cyclones’ size and strength surprised the Frogs early and led to those early penalties. Holding usually means individual battles are being lost as opponents are quicker to a spot or stronger to gain leverage. All year, it’s been the Frogs winning individual battles. Saturday, very likely for the first time this year, they lost more than they won.
No. 10 TCU vs. Texas
6:15 p.m. Saturday, ESPN