No. 3 TCU left to wait, hope for CFP berth despite first loss

ARLINGTON, Texas — Eight years ago, TCU spent Selection Sunday worrying.

After a big win over Iowa State in a championship weekend that didn’t include a Big 12 version at the time, the Horned Frogs gathered in Fort Worth nervous about what the Playoff Selection Committee would do of university football in the first edition of the new postseason structure. They sat at No. 3 in the week’s rankings, but they knew Ohio State was hiding in the weeds after making one of the most impressive displays of strength in a conference title game in recent memory .

These fears eventually proved true. TCU exited the inaugural CFP and one of the original BCS destroyers was haunted for years by another “what if” that was added to the ledger of its checkered history of disappointment. The Big 12 suffered an existential crisis as a result, ultimately reinstating the Championship Game as a way to prevent this scenario from happening again.

In a cruel twist of irony, however, the Horned Frogs find themselves in a similar spot again all these years later because of the very game they had a hand in creating, their undefeated season slipping through their fingers in overtime at AT&T Stadium on Saturday. afternoon thanks to a pesky Kansas State squad that pulled off a 31-28 OT victory that gave the Wildcats the Big 12 title in the process.

TCU now turns to more pressing matters as it waits to see what happens in a conference room 33 miles northeast of campus as the Selection Committee once again debates the merits of a Big 12 program with a loss to come to the final four after failing to make it. leave any doubt of their worthiness with an undisputed league title in their back pocket.

The Horned Frogs were sharp early, taking their opening possession of the game from their own 10 to punt 92 yards. Quarterback Max Duggan was six-for-seven to open the game, dropping one into the arms of Quentin Johnston for a huge 53-yard gain before sidearming it to Taye Barber for a touchdown pass.

Kansas State would have an aggressive and quick response. After forcing a botched field goal, the offense took advantage of good field position by needing just six plays to find the end zone, scoring on a quarterback pass to Ben Sinnott to the delight of the appropriately purple-clad fans shaded who made the trip to North Texas.

Later, the Wildcats took the lead on another short field, needing just three plays to drive 59 yards before Will Howard pulled the keeper for a touchdown across the goal line.

Despite some nervy moments in the second quarter, however, Sonny Dykes’ defense would begin to toughen up as the game wore on. They recorded a pair of shutouts before halftime, while the offense got on the scoreboard with a field goal late in the minute before halftime.

And that’s when things got weird…as they tend to do when a sideline prominently features a “Hypnotoad” and has proven capable of double-digit comebacks in nearly every game in 2022.

Duggan, making his 41st career start at the school, had his first drive of the third quarter technically ended on a punt after an incomplete pass on third down. However, the play was a fraction of an inch away from being a safety after it was knocked out of his hand on a forward motion and later recovered in the end zone for a go-ahead safety.

The Wildcats didn’t catch a break on the call, but they did show that the ball doesn’t lie in those situations, needing just four plays before Howard threw a dart up the middle to RJ Garcia II.

After a defensive stop and threatening to run away with things, however, KSU fumbled the ensuing punt return. Trent Battle recovered it and gave TCU the ball just 10 yards from the red zone in opposing territory. Three plays later, running back Kendre Miller (who rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries) cut the lead to four after bursting into the end zone.

However, Deuce Vaughn would have his say.

K-State’s diminutive running back moved and powered his way for an ankle-breaking 44-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. He also finished with a game-high 130 yards rushing on the day, helping hand the program its first conference crown since 2012, when current offensive coordinator Collin Klein was the big man on campus.

Duggan, perhaps earning a few Heisman Trophy votes along the way, would prove he hadn’t given up, putting the team on his back like he had done so many times before this season. Rushing or passing on all but one play, the veteran signal caller drove his team into the end zone as part of a remarkable eight-play drive that covered every bit of 80 yards. A Jared Wiley two-point conversion tied the game to cap another furious second-half comeback for Dykes’ crew in the coach’s first year in charge.

It wasn’t to be, however, as Duggan was twice denied on goal in the extra frame before Miller got in the fourth. The turnover on downs ultimately allowed Ty Zentner’s 31-yard field goal to split the uprights and deliver an improbable Big 12 championship for Chris Klieman and company.

The thrilling conclusion, combined with No. 4 USC’s loss to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game the night before, makes the playoff picture much messier than when the week began.

No. 5 Ohio State, which was out and sitting with a loss to undefeated Michigan seven days ago, is almost certain to be in the top four with a resume that boasts the nation’s second-leading scoring offense , the No. 13. defense, a top-10 win over Penn State and another quality win over No. 21 Notre Dame.

The biggest question the committee will have to debate over the next 24 hours is, barring massive upsets in the SEC and Big Ten championship games, whether TCU has done enough to get into the field despite losing to a team it already beat, or if No. 6 Alabama has shown enough to get past them just like the Buckeyes did in 2014.

“I think so. I mean look at their strength of schedule. Think about how they’ve performed all year,” Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said of the playoff-bound Horned Frogs before the game . “I think regardless, they should be there, for sure.”

That’s a question out of TCU’s hands right now as they embark on another nervous Sunday of waiting to find out their fate.

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Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets including NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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