As early as September, TCU lost linebackers and team leaders, and people counted the Horned Frogs out.
Pass rushers got hurt. Defensive backs fell by the wayside. In all, 20 starters missed games because of injuries.
And people counted TCU out.
When star quarterback Trevone Boykin let a drunken late-night fist-swinging stain his reputation last week, the Frogs’ season-long Lazarus imitation appeared over.
Yet, as it turned out, there was one more date with its own football funeral for TCU to survive. By halftime Saturday night, the Oregon Ducks were embarrassing the Frogs 31-0 in every way possible.
The Frogs’ football obituaries — as well as the Big 12 Conference’s, frankly — were being written.
The Pac-12 Ducks were too good. The TCU defense was too riddled with holes. Quarterback Bram Kohlhausen was about to be judged as the career walk-on backup that he was.
Outside, a cold rain had fallen all day on the Alamo City. Oregon weather.
But two hours or so after the second half of the Alamo Bowl began, balloons and confetti were raining down on the Horned Frogs’ celebrating heads.
Miracles are best left to the spiritual realm. But the Frogs’ 47-41 rise-from-the-football-crypt victory Saturday over the Ducks had an ethereal, almost heavenly touch to it.
They say that dead men wear black. So TCU coach Gary Patterson switched to purple as the Frogs came out for the second half.
“I’m trying to look thinner,” Patterson joked, as he explained the black shirt he wore in the first two quarters.
“I did the same thing at Iowa State. I started in black and we were down 21-14.”
Fate, however, sometimes has a way of leveling the odds. On Saturday, the equalizer came when Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams was shaken up and left the game in the third quarter. Adams had already thrown for 197 yards and led the Ducks to four touchdowns.
With both sides stripped of their big-play quarterbacks, Kohlhausen stepped into the spotlight and had the night of his life.
As the regular season went on, a curious habit had befallen Patterson’s TCU defense. Often, the Frogs would struggle in the first half of games before steadying themselves after the intermission.
In the second half, Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State were all held scoreless by the TCU defense this season. Mighty Oklahoma managed only seven points.
As much, therefore, as it was Kohlhausen’s turn to star, it again was Patterson’s old calling card, his defense, that slowed the Oregon running game and heightened the pressure on stand-in quarterback Jeff Lockie.
The Ducks failed to score on six consecutive second-half possessions, cracking the door just enough for Kohlhausen and the Frogs to send the game into overtime and then win it, fittingly, with Denzel Johnson’s breakup of a Lockie fourth-down pass.
“I will never wear black again,” Patterson promised.
On the other side of the ball, after that 31-0 spanking in the first half, the Frogs scored nine consecutive times.
Even if you watched it, the game’s 180-degree turn was hard to believe. Kohlhausen clearly benefited by the decision to frequently allow him an extra blocker, a tight end, in the backfield. His confidence surged.
Over the final two quarters, Kohlhausen completed 19 of 26 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried the football 10 times for a net 51 yards and two more touchdowns.
“This will be one I’ll tell my grandkids,” he said. “I mean, this is a night I thought would never happen.”
It made for an arresting finish, if the TCU contingent will pardon the pun. Whoever had been watching at home, bemoaning the Big 12’s overall poor bowl performance and aghast at the Frogs’ 31-point deficit, had to be equally stunned as TCU melted away the Oregon lead.
It was the silliest way to end the Frogs’ season, and yet it seemed to be the most fitting way.
“It’s just been one of those teams,” Patterson said. “They’ve never really quit. I’m really proud of them.”
For Kohlhausen, it was an unforgettable ending to what had to be an emotional season. His father died of cancer in November.
The injuries. The personnel losses. The Boykin episode, which was supposed to be the final straw.
We all counted TCU out. The Frogs refused to listen.
Inside the Alamodome late Saturday, it was raining balloons and confetti.
TCU weather, as it turned out.
As Frogs fans swarmed the field, Kohlhausen, named the bowl’s offensive MVP, said he looked for his mother.
“I bargained with a security guy to get her down on the field,” he said. “I just gave her a hug and started crying with her.
“I would have loved for my dad to be here to watch this happen. But I know he was watching upstairs.”
Heaven knows, somebody up there had to have a hand in it.