Another big game. Another chance to prove themselves. Another chance to make a statement.
The No. 6 TCU Horned Frogs ought to be used to it by now.
“It’s always a statement game when you go out there,” cornerback Kevin White said. “It’s still the Big 12.”
Through five games in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) have knocked off then-No. 4 Oklahoma, lost at then-No. 5 Baylor at the last second, routed then-No. 15 Oklahoma State, scored 82 points against Texas Tech and won on a last-second field goal at then-No. 20 West Virginia.
So when conference leader and seventh-ranked Kansas State (7-1, 5-0) rolls into Fort Worth on Saturday night, it’s no big deal, right?
Not so fast.
“Oh, yeah, we know how big it is, if we win this game, what it can do for us,” White said. “But we’ve got to get ready for this game, get prepared for this game, and get everybody mentally ready.”
The result of the 6:30 p.m. kickoff — the first night game of the year at Amon G. Carter Stadium — will carry more weight than any game this season for the Horned Frogs. Both they and the Wildcats are in line for the conference championship. Both teams have a road map to the College Football Playoff. And if Baylor were to lose Saturday morning at Oklahoma, a result that would be known hours before the kickoff in Fort Worth, then TCU would lead the conference with a win.
Another big game. What else is new?
“Every week is an interview,” receiver Kolby Listenbee said. “We’ve just got to go out there and put our best foot forward.”
The Horned Frogs have been interviewing well since the conference season began. They have gone from No. 25 in the AP rankings to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff committee rankings. They remain on the fringe of college football’s first playoff tournament.
They have won big. They have won close. They have won with defense, special teams and offense.
Now, they have won tough.
Last week’s 31-30 victory on Jaden Oberkrom’s last-second field goal at West Virginia qualified as the most physical ballgame the Horned Frogs have played this season, at least in coach Gary Patterson’s eyes. They found out Tuesday night whether it impressed the CFP committee.
But already, it had impressed the players and coaches.
“If you stood where I stood, there were some unbelievable explosions on that field,” Patterson said. “On both sides of the ball. It was a very fast, very physical ballgame. When I tell you it was the most physical game we’ve played this year, it wasn’t even close. That was the most physical game that we played this year.”
The Frogs showed they can be tough physically. Down 27-14, they needed to prove to themselves they are tough mentally.
“We have heart. We could have folded,” Listenbee said. “The game was close. We had a lot of mistakes. We all jelled together. Nobody was sitting there whining at each other. At some point, you thought it was going to go downhill. But at the same time, everybody was just so poised on the sideline, we all knew we were going to come back and win. The game was still close, and we hadn’t had our great drive yet. We still had confidence in ourselves.”
Patterson noticed that, too. He has noticed it through all of the conference games. But the rally at West Virginia convinced him his team knows it is more difficult to deal with success than failure. The players made a statement to him.
“I think they started the game not dealing with it very well,” he said. “And then I think they finished it. … We’ve got a good group of kids, to be honest with you. We’ve got a really good group of kids.”
And now they must make another statement.
“We’ll have to play our best football game up to this point to beat this Kansas State team, because they don’t beat themselves,” Patterson said. “That doesn’t mean we have to do anything extraordinary. We’ve got to play up to our level in all three phases.”
Of course, they do. It is another big game.