A Purple Fall
TCU's tumble out of College Football Playoff reflects game's new world
If the TCU Horned Frogs were Charlie Brown, the College Football Playoff committee became their Lucy on Sunday morning.
The committee pulled their College Football Playoff berth right out from under them by sliding the Horned Frogs from No. 3 — which is where the Horned Frogs were ranked less than a week ago — to No. 6, even though the Horned Frogs destroyed Iowa State, 55-3, on Saturday and shared the Big 12 championship with Baylor.
It must have seemed absurd to TCU fans as they watched the rankings unveiled. Twice this season the Horned Frogs had been ranked in the top 4. Neither Baylor nor Ohio State had been ranked in the top 4 at all this season. Yet both were ranked ahead of TCU on Sunday morning.
What did we learn from this new era of college football? Where a team was ranked the week before doesn’t matter at all to this committee.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, who runs the selection committee, knows you saw that, and he addressed the Horned Frogs’ precipitous drop.
“It really didn’t change much,” Long told ESPN. “I know it looks like a long drop from three to six, but they were really, three through six [last week] that close. Paper thin, razor-thin all those clichés. We tried to share that last week.”
That is of little consolation to the Horned Frogs, who have scratched, clawed and fought for everything they’ve gotten since the old Southwest Conference broke up after the 1994 season. When Patterson arrived in 1998 in Fort Worth as a member of Dennis Franchione’s staff, the school was in the now-defunct Western Athletic Conference and actually considering getting rid of the program. The Horned Frogs conference-hopped from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West and the Big East until they landed in the Big 12 in 2012.
It’s one of the reasons, Patterson said on Saturday, that he’s been so patient with change in college football, which only now is going to a playoff bracket — albeit four teams — in major college football.
“We’ve been sitting outside the circle for many years,” Patterson said. “We had to be patient.”
The Horned Frogs will have to be patient a little longer for their shot at a national championship. Patterson spoke to ESPN on Sunday after the rankings were announced, and he was visibly disappointed.
“We’re sad,” Patterson said. “We’ll meet today. It’s been a great journey for us from 4-8 [last year]. We’d like to be in. We played with an edge all season. If we wanted to control our own destiny, we needed to be undefeated.”
This disappointment is different than when TCU went to the Rose Bowl in 2010. It was a reward for being in a non-power conference and defying the BCS odds to get into one of the major bowls.
That system was rigged against teams like TCU. In this first year of the College Football Playoff the Horned Frogs spent the final two months of the season as serious, legitimate contenders for the playoff, which is certainly progress.
So what happened between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning? Well, the Horned Frogs didn’t receive any help in the way of a loss from any of the other teams under consideration. In fact, Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game was so emphatic — a brilliant 59-0 drubbing — that the committee, Long said, had no choice but to notice.
Long said that even though the committee re-voted a few times to create the final rankings, those re-votes did not include TCU or Baylor sliding ahead of Ohio State.
“Once we saw the body of work, it was really about Ohio State’s movement up and their impression on the field that made a difference to move them up,” Long said.
What did we learn from this new era of college football? Two things stand out. First, where a team was ranked the week before doesn’t matter at all to this committee. TCU’s drop from three to six makes that clear, whether it’s unfair or not. Second, head-to-head, ultimately, will matter. The committee obviously took that into account when it slid Baylor — TCU’s only loss — ahead of the Horned Frogs in the final rankings.
So the Horned Frogs should enjoy the Peach Bowl against Ole Miss, a great reward for a turnaround season in which it improved by seven wins from 2013 and showed the rest of the country that their inclusion in the Big 12 wasn’t just geographically convenient.
But what might have been will haunt these Horned Frogs for some time.