College Confidential

ESPN’s Fowler: TCU season belongs in ‘what could have been’ and ‘we’ll never know’ files of college football history

TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin greeted fans after the Horned Frogs beat Mississippi 42-3 in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31.
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin greeted fans after the Horned Frogs beat Mississippi 42-3 in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31. Star-Telegram

College football history is filled with too many “we’ll never know” moments.

The four-team College Football Playoff, which culminates with Monday’s National Championship between Ohio State and Oregon at AT&T Stadium, was supposed to go a long way in quelling that problem.

Alas, as everyone around the TCU campus knows, we’re still a ways from eliminating the guess work from college football but at least we’re headed in the right direction.

ESPN’s Chris Fowler, who will work the championship with partner Kirk Herbstreit, understands the anguish of Horned Frogs fans. But the Buckeye’s win against top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl has helped buoy the CFP committee’s first foursome.

“TCU looked very much to me, that if you put them in the bracket and put them against anybody that they would’ve certainly been capable of winning the championship, too,” said Fowler at the Renaissance Hotel in Dallas. “We’re just in that kind year where you had six teams that were worthy and it was never going to fit into a four-team bracket.”

TCU’s claims for a playoff spot remain valid, especially after its dominating defeat of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. It just turns out, the team the Frogs probably should have edged out was defending champ Florida State, not Ohio State. FSU lost to Oregon by 39 points in the Rose Bowl. Most observers figure TCU would have given the Ducks a much tougher test.

“[TCU] destroyed an SEC team that had beaten Alabama,” said Fowler, who will be calling his first ever national title game. “They demolished a defense that was still highly-rated coming in to that game. [Using] the eye test, you want to look at TCU? It looked like a team that would belong in this bracket and belong on the field with anybody out there.”

But we’ll never know.

“There’s a large file of what might have been and we’ll never know,” lamented Fowler. “Those are the two files that TCU’s 2014 team falls into, unfortunately for them. As great as it was, we’ll never know.”

Fowler has championed an eight-team playoff, but is hesitant to campaign for another format change so soon. From a fan’s standpoint, of course, it makes sense considering how well-viewed the semifinals games were. (The Sugar and Rose Bowls were the two highest-rated cable shows in history.) A move to eight teams would add seven postseason games from the current three.

“I wouldn’t rush to change. I think you take that step very carefully. The wear and tear on the players physically and to some degree mentally is a very real issue. These are two teams dealing with Round 15, trying to get the fuel tank full again,” Fowler said.

Fowler is sure of one thing: TCU has itself to blame for missing out on the first playoff.

“It’s a shame they took their foot off the gas and made some decisions in the last seven minutes of that game in Waco or they would have been in the bracket for sure,” he said. “Now, I don’t know who would have been left out. Then you would potentially have had a very, very good, as it turns out, one-loss Ohio State team on the outside looking in. But I have no doubt an undefeated TCU would have been in the bracket.”

Even though many, like Fowler, believe TCU would’ve done just fine in the playoff, the loss to Baylor gave the committee enough leeway to give Ohio State the nod.

And then the Buckeyes showed they deserved it.

“The stereotype or the perception outside of the Big 10 was that the Big 10 is overrated, that they’re slow, that they’re antiquated, they can’t stay up with the modern era of college football,” Herbstreit said. “So for Ohio State to play the way they did, because they didn’t just beat Alabama, they ran by Alabama, overpowered Alabama ... I think America was like, ‘wow, it’s a new era of Ohio State football and a new era of Big 10 football.’ So that was a major coup, not just for the Buckeyes, but for [Big 10 commissioner] Jim Delany.”

Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @StevensonFWST