A couple of nights before Halloween, the season was playing out as TCU wanted — unbeaten, top-five, charging toward a championship and playoff showdown with fellow unbeaten Baylor at the end of the season.
Yes, injuries were a problem. Yes, there had been close games.
But the defense, in hang-on mode most of the season, was finding its stride. The offense remained one of the nation’s best, not slowed by anyone since the season opener, and the high-fiving performance by Trevone Boykin against West Virginia on Oct. 29 had put him almost even with Leonard Fournette of LSU in the Heisman Trophy race.
The Horned Frogs went to Oklahoma State on Nov. 7, gave up two long touchdown passes in the first quarter, had an extra-point kick blocked, failed to fall on a muffed punt, got stuffed on fourth down, lost Josh Doctson to injury and watched Boykin throw four interceptions. Boone Pickens Stadium swallowed them up in a 49-29 loss.
It’s incredible what he was doing for our offense. Anytime someone needed to step up and make a play, it seems like Josh did that for our offense.
TCU tight end Dominic Merka, on Josh Doctson
Now, just days before Thanksgiving, the season has changed for TCU in ways once unimaginable. With two games left, Saturday night at Oklahoma and Friday against Baylor, little is capable of working out the way it looked two weeks ago.
We take a look at five ways the landscape has changed in such a short time for the Horned Frogs:
1. The Boykin injury
No player has been more important to TCU in the past two seasons than Boykin.
Entering the Kansas game, Boykin’s 441.1 yards per game of total offense had him on track to rank third all-time in FBS for a season, behind David Klingler’s 474.6 in 1990 and B.J. Symons’ 459.7 in 2003.
He is the “heart and soul,” as tight end Dominic Merka put it, not only of the offense but the team. Everything the Horned Frogs do is possible because of his skills, and he was on track for the third-biggest total offense season in FBS history. That was before he got hurt last week against Kansas. It was the one thing the Frogs could least afford to have happen. The offense, built around Boykin and expanded for him as he matured, is different with another quarterback. Even if Boykin plays Saturday night, the game plan is likely to be modified to account for his injury.
Josh Doctson is two catches shy of holding the “double” receiving triple crown at TCU: the season and career records for receptions, touchdown catches and yards.
2. The Doctson injury
The Horned Frogs had the nation’s most dynamic receiver when November began. Now he may not be available until January. Doctson, the nation’s leader in receiving yards and one of the two top-scoring receivers in the Big 12, suffered a wrist injury being tackled at Oklahoma State. He played last week and caught one pass. He will not play against Oklahoma or Baylor. That leaves the Horned Frogs with a receiving corps led by Kolby Listenbee, freshman KaVontae Turpin and converted running back Shaun Nixon. Combined, they have 91 catches and 10 touchdowns. Doctson had 79 catches and 14 touchdowns.
3. National reputation
The Horned Frogs are nobody’s darling anymore. They opened the season at No. 2, and despite the weekly injuries and close scrapes, they continued to hang around the top five. They got credit for the way they finished last season and rolled into this season with one of the nation’s top offenses and a leading Heisman contender. But one loss evaporated that goodwill. The Frogs plummeted in the CFP committee rankings after Oklahoma State. Boykin’s first four-interception game made his Heisman hopes disappear like a puff of dust. TCU is now the committee’s lowest-ranked one-loss team, a mere afterthought after months of riding high.
4. Conference standing
TCU began the season as one of the Big 12’s two great hopes, along with Baylor, for a spot in the College Football Playoff and a chance at a national championship. Now the Frogs and Bears are spoilers — they’ve gone from being the league favorites to potential troublemakers. Their once-epic Black Friday showdown could actually become a battle of two-loss teams. TCU and Baylor can still work their way into the playoff picture. Both teams are good enough for that. But they would only drag down Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the process and perhaps sink the conference’s playoff hopes. That’s a scenario few souls could have imagined in August.
5. Goals to go
TCU has been to a bowl game 16 of the past 18 seasons, has won 10 games or more in five of the past seven seasons and 11 games or more eight times in the last 12 seasons.
What is TCU shooting for now? The big-picture scope of the season’s goals has to be adjusted. The national championship — even a chance at it — is a long shot. Maybe a New Year’s Six bowl is possible, but that would take a conference championship, and that would require help in the form of two losses from Oklahoma State, not to mention winning out. A 10-win season remains in play; it would require only a split of the last two games and would give TCU six in eight years. There’s one more thing: How about a victory against Baylor, which would move the Frogs up in the bowl pecking order while pushing the Bears down? Sign them up.
No. 18 TCU at No. 7 Oklahoma
7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8
Head to head
TCU (9-1, 6-1)
Oklahoma (9-1, 6-1)
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