Big 12 football truly arrived Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium in TCU's inaugural season as a league member.
No longer is 50 points and 500 yards of total offense good enough to guarantee a victory, as it typically is in other leagues. No. 23 TCU discovered that in gut-wrenching, triple-overtime fashion during a 56-53 loss to No. 17 Texas Tech that made for four-plus hours of compelling TV for an ABC regional audience.
But the final verdict, delivered on Tech quarterback Seth Doege's 8-yard touchdown pass to Alex Torres, took the shine off an otherwise electrifying game for the purple-clad folks among an overflow crowd of 47,894, second-largest in stadium history.
Doege, a fifth-year senior, threw for 318 yards and seven touchdowns while delivering an undeniable truth about TCU's new neighborhood. The team that tacks up touchdowns, avoids turnovers and refuses to settle for field goals usually wins.
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Tech (6-1, 3-1 in Big 12) had no turnovers and kicked no field goals Saturday. TCU (5-2, 2-2) turned it over three times and watched kicker Jaden Oberkrom, a freshman from Arlington Martin, connect on a school- and conference-record six field goals.
"Welcome to the Big 12. ...They made one more play than we did," said TCU coach Gary Patterson, who watched his team fall despite a 516-389 advantage in total yards. "We can't give up missed tackles. We can't settle for field goals. We are going to lose when we do that."
That was Saturday's bottom line for a TCU team dealing with a laundry list of injuries and playing 16 freshmen from its 2012 signing class, most of any FBS school. But dig a little deeper, to the 10-0 comeback led by redshirt freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin in the final 2:25 that sent the game into overtime, and there is a deeper message.
"There's no moral victories," Patterson said. "We didn't come into this conference to lose. But I do... believe we proved we can play in it. It's as simple as that."
If Boykin continues to progress the way he has the past two weeks, there will be plenty of Saturday celebrations in his future. His final five drives at the helm in regulation and overtime resulted in 184 yards, three touchdown passes, two field goals and a lot of U-turns from fans headed to the parking lot after TCU fell behind 36-26 on Kenny Williams' 47-yard touchdown run with 4:06 remaining.
But none of his late-game magic could undo the damage done by two tipped interceptions during regulation, including one that set up a short-field touchdown drive that gave Tech its first momentum in a back-and-forth game. The same could be said of multiple missed tackles by the defense or a perfectly executed onside kick that caught the TCU special teams napping and gave Tech an extra possession, which the Red Raiders converted into a second-quarter touchdown and a 21-17 lead.
Such is the minuscule margin for error in the balanced Big 12, where double-digit leads are often discarded like disposable razors during games. Both teams watched 10-point leads dissolve Saturday before Tech grabbed the seventh, and final, lead change when Doege's seventh TD pass settled matters in the third overtime.
No one would be surprised if ESPN deems this one an instant classic, with late-night replays in the near future. But for TCU, it looms as a huge missed opportunity in the Horned Frogs' quest to become bowl-eligible as Big 12 newbies during a tumultuous season marked by unflattering off-field headlines and key injuries.
Because of a backloaded closing stretch that includes remaining games against No. 4 Kansas State, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 13 West Virginia -- as well as road games against Oklahoma State and Texas -- TCU is fresh out of wiggle room in efforts to coast across the six-win barrier needed for postseason play.
Without question, defensive deficiencies at Texas and West Virginia make those road games more winnable than anyone envisioned in August. But the reality is that TCU has lost home games to Tech and Iowa State, teams that combined to finish 11-14 last season, and is beginning to understand the weekly realities of Big 12 life.
"The intensity has picked up from the Mountain West," said receiver Josh Boyce, referring to the league TCU ruled with an iron fist for the past three seasons. "We should have won. We know that was a missed opportunity. Every game you lose is a big missed opportunity. To win [our] sixth game, we could have gotten to bowl eligibility. But we've got five more, so we'll go from there."
The upside to Big 12 life: With the exception of Kansas, nine other teams are capable of beating one another on any given Saturday with a hot offense and a few timely turnovers. And TCU, which has an improving offense, still gets five more chances to go for that sixth win.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760