Three years ago, when TCU didn’t make a bowl game, James McFarland remembers what happened next.
“Those off-season workouts, they were mean,” he said. “To not finish off our season in a bowl game, that was heartbreaking.”
Every team wants to avoid that.
TCU gets its first chance Saturday against No. 13 Oklahoma State, when a win would mean bowl eligibility.
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The Horned Frogs (5-4, 3-3 Big 12) won’t make a top-tier destination, but with a win Saturday they would be in the mix for any of the Big 12 tie-ins to the Alamo, Russell Athletic, Texas, Liberty, Cactus and Armed Forces bowl games.
Even without a win Saturday, the Frogs have two more chances for that sixth victory.
It won’t fix everything about a season that went south quickly with a blocked field goal against Arkansas and a six-point loss to Oklahoma. But after a 4-4 start, it would be meaningful.
We still feel confident we can end this season better than how we started it. We have a really good chance of going to a bowl game and being able to finish.
TCU defensive end James McFarland
“To this point, the season really hasn’t gone as we expected,” said McFarland, a senior defensive end. “But we still have a couple of games left. We still feel confident we can end this season better than how we started it. We have a really good chance of going to a bowl game and being able to finish.”
It won’t be easy, of course, and it’s not guaranteed. The Frogs are healthier than they’ve been all season and high off the momentum from a 40-point victory in their last game. But Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas State are 18-11 combined. None has a losing record, and Oklahoma State (8-2, 6-1) arrives on a six-game winning streak and with outside College Football Playoff hopes.
“The Cowboys come into town trying to play for a conference title,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “Texas is in a situation where they’re trying to win as many ballgames as they possibly can. And Kansas State kind of sits in the same situation we do, getting bowl-eligible.”
With a win on Saturday, TCU would be eligible for a bowl game. The Horned Frogs have played in a bowl game in 16 of the past 18 seasons.
TCU has been to 16 bowl games in the past 18 seasons. The benefits are many, including extra practices, television exposure and a higher recruiting profile.
But Patterson said there’s more that not everyone considers.
“A lot of these kids, for them to be able to stay here and stay on per diem, stay in the dorms, it’s not just about getting an extra practice,” he said. “They get a whole extra month. They get bowl gifts so they have Christmas presents. There’s a lot of things that go along with going to a bowl that’s not just getting 15 extra practices.”
National experts are optimistic about TCU’s chances.
Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports, Brett McMurphy of ESPN and Colin Becht of Sports Illustrated all project a Texas Bowl matchup between TCU and Texas A&M. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports puts TCU in the Texas Bowl against South Carolina. Erick Smith of USA Today predicts TCU vs. Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
0Losses for TCU in the past five meetings against Oklahoma State in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs won the 2014, 1992 and 1990 games and tied in the 1971 and 1949 games. All time, the series is 14-10-2 in Oklahoma State’s favor.
“Coach P says it’s always about giving the seniors the best season they can have,” McFarland said. “I’m a senior this year, so I’m all about that. First, we’re tying to get bowl-eligible. And then we’ll expand our reach from there. The better bowl we can go to, the better memories we’ll have.”
The final push begins Saturday for TCU. But extra game or not, strong finish or not, the Frogs will gain from the experience, McFarland said.
“With anything that happens, these young guys are going to get better and get more experience,” he said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and the future is looking bright for TCU.”
TCU vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State
11 a.m. Saturday, FS1
Head to head
(5-4, 3-3 Big 12)
3rd down conv.
3rd down conv.