There may yet be a path to the College Football Playoff for TCU, but it’s hard to make out how narrow or wide.
By the time the Horned Frogs finish Saturday’s Big 12 title game against Oklahoma, they’ll at least know whether any path still exists.
Win and the Frogs are 11-2, Big 12 champs, headed for no worse than a New Year’s Six bowl — Cotton, Fiesta or Peach? — and at least in the playoff committee’s conversation for a fourth team.
Lose and they’re 10-3, Big 12 runners-up and probably headed for Christmas in San Antonio.
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But the Frogs at least start the week with a chance to earn consideration for the CFP. They gave themselves that chance by defeating Baylor last week, concluding a 12-game regular season with losses at Iowa State and Oklahoma and a marquee win at then-No. 6 Oklahoma State.
“Really proud of my group, to be honest with you,” coach Gary Patterson said.
The Frogs can only control what happens in their game against the Sooners, set to kick off at 11:30 a.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. With a victory, they can set their Big 12 championship trophy by the TV and watch the rest of the games with interest.
In the ACC championship game, Clemson (11-1) and Miami (10-1) are basically playing for a spot in the final four.
Same with the SEC, where Auburn (10-2) and Georgia (11-1) meet in Atlanta.
Wisconsin (12-0) is presumably in with a victory over Ohio State (10-2) in the Big Ten title game.
What would need to happen for an 11-2 Big 12 champion TCU, owning a split with Oklahoma and a road loss to a Top 25 team, to get a playoff spot?
TCU would need to stack up well with other contenders for the same spot and hope the committee saw something that provides an edge — its Big 12-leading defense or strength of schedule, for example.
One potential roadblock for the Frogs and other hopefuls was removed when Notre Dame lost to Stanford on Saturday night. But the Frogs’ task will be made tougher with the suspension of safety Nick Orr for the first half against OU, announced by the Big 12 on Sunday.
So assuming a TCU victory on Saturday, its competition for that last spot could come from any of these teams or a combination:
An 11-2 SEC runner-up Georgia with losses only to Auburn.
A 10-3 SEC runner-up Auburn that defeated the No. 1 team a week earlier.
An 11-1 Alabama with only a top-10 road loss, although not even a division winner in the SEC.
A 10-2 ACC runner-up Miami with losses in two out of three weeks.
A 12-1 Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin with its only loss in the title game.
A 10-3 Big Ten runner-up Ohio State with a home loss to the Big 12 runner-up.
An 11-2 Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma, which would have split with the Frogs.
An 11-2 Pac-12 champion USC, which would have won five straight.
A 10-3 Pac-12 champion Stanford, which would be 9-1 in its past 10 games.
The best combination for the Frogs’ sake? Who can say, except that it has to start with a victory over Oklahoma.
After that, the path will narrow or widen on its own.
No. 12 TCU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
11:30 Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4