On the pyramid chart of goals in the TCU football meeting room, one block sat empty and uncolored Tuesday.
But as the head coach pointed out, the Horned Frogs still have a lot of purple ink left.
“We still have a lot of goals left,” Gary Patterson said, gesturing toward the chart, an annual fixture in the room. “We still have a chance for a New Year’s bowl. We still have an outside chance at the playoffs. We still have a chance to at least tie for the conference championship.
“You just go forward. Stranger things have happened.”
One season ago, another unbeaten Big 12 team was whipped on the road by two touchdowns in midseason by unranked West Virginia. But the Baylor Bears ran the table from there and finished No. 5 in the final College Football Playoff poll.
TCU, after getting spanked Saturday at Oklahoma State, must now follow that same path. The Frogs have home games remaining against Kansas and Baylor and a No. 12 road test at Oklahoma.
The 49-29 defeat at Oklahoma State dropped the Frogs from fifth to 13th in the latest Associated Press poll. In the CFP rankings, TCU fell from eighth to 15th.
Go figure. Iowa had to struggle to subdue a lousy Indiana team (winless in five Big Ten games) but still moved up in the CFP voting to fifth place.
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, routed an undefeated Big 12 team and only moved the needle to No. 8.
Patterson, for the most part, declined to comment Tuesday on the polls and CFP rankings. But he admitted he was puzzled by the polls’ fickle pecking order.
“We were a good enough team for us to be a good win,” Patterson observed, “but not a good enough team for the team to have a good loss?”
The short answer is apparently so, wrong as that is. But as the AP electorate and the coaches who vote in their poll have become barking dogs of habit, the tendency to play favorites keeps raising its ugly head.
Alabama? No question — a strong team. But how did its Sept. 19 loss at home to Ole Miss get erased from its 2015 ledger?
Clearly, the committee favors the Crimson Tide and, as it proved in last season’s final vote, the Big Ten, the “home” conference of two influential ex-coaches and committee members. How else to explain Iowa at No. 5?
The committee sent a clear message to nearly every other playoff contender. The message: Gotcha!
Lose once, and they’ve got you. TCU and LSU fell seven spots, despite their losses coming on the road against teams with a combined 17-1 record. But Big Ten Iowa plowed into the top five with its lackluster win at Indiana, and Michigan State dropped only six places — less than TCU and LSU — despite losing to a 4-6 Nebraska team.
The Big 12 Conference, meanwhile, continues to be broadly painted as inferior because its surplus of talented quarterbacks — best in the nation on the whole — and receivers keep scoring touchdowns.
Gotcha. The voters have told the Big 12.
Just wait. If and when Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State lose, an eight-place fall awaits them.
The back-loaded, well-intentioned Big 12 schedule could well end up biting the conference in their playoff posteriors again.
“To be honest,” Patterson mused, “I’m not sure it’s good for the conference to be back-loaded. I think people forget early losses.
“There’s a chance that with the four teams, everybody could end up with two losses. So how did that help us?”
Stranger things have happened, like the coach said.
Unfortunately, Patterson noted, “Perception is reality.
“In these next three, we just have to play a lot better to get noticed again.”