Twenty years have passed since TCU began this trek towards national prominence, and locally we are all spoiled rotten by the ascent of the Horned Frogs.
On Saturday morning, ESPN’s College GameDay arrived to do the show from the TCU Commons and in doing so provided three free hours of positive coverage for the program, the school, and for all of Fort Worth.
By early Saturday evening, TCU was 5-0, and alone atop the Big 12.
On Sunday afternoon, TCU will be ranked in the top seven and the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12. TCU has for years carried the flag for “all of the small schools that don’t have a chance to get here,” and now the Frogs are carrying the toad pole for its power conference, too.
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“Great ambiance. Everything that went on today was awesome,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said after his team defeated West Virginia. “The student section was pumping. They had been up since 6:30 going. You couldn’t ask for anything better for TCU and for Fort Worth.”
These things are fluid, of course, but Iowa State’s win at No. 3 Oklahoma handed TCU the conference.
We are numb to this when we all need a good smack upside the head to stop and smell the Frogs. Saturday should be remembered and celebrated as one of the greatest days in the history of TCU football, but it feels like we are taking these days for granted.
“This was just another game,” TCU running back Kyle Hicks said, “and another Saturday for us.”
No it wasn’t, so don’t bother lying that it was. When ESPN analyst Lee Corso puts on your mascot head at your school, like he did with the Super Frog, that’s a Saturday most college programs would spend millions in hopes of obtaining.
TCU may never win a national title, but the Horned Frogs are one of the great miracle success stories in the history of college football. What the Frogs are doing currently, and have done for more than a decade, should not happen in today’s landscape of college football.
The small, private school in Fort Worth will rank ahead of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Auburn, and now Oklahoma, too in the next college football rankings. That’s not impossible, but it’s close.
TCU’s 31-24 win over No. 23 West Virginia was not gorgeous, and the Frogs did not cover the point spread, but it allows the Frogs to remain eligible for every single thing a college football team covets.
This is only going to get harder, and there may yet be a loss, but so far this has been as entertaining as any TCU season to date. All of it has. For 20 years.
“We’re on top of the conference now,” quarterback Kenny Hill said. “And ... whoa ... yeah, every game is going to be tough.”
That includes the next game, at Kansas State in Manhattan. They could even include the game after that, against conference joke Kansas. TCU never has an easy time against KU.
TCU has a team good enough to be in the national conversation, which is an achievement that is far too often ignored around these here parts.
Quarterback Kenny Hill continually plays like a fifth-year senior who recognizes the importance of not turning over the ball.
For the second time in as many games he outplayed the NFL prospect quarterback; three weeks ago he beat likely NFL first round pick, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. On Saturday, Hill added West Virginia stud passer Will Grier to the 2017 victim list.
Hill is not putting up Trevone Boykin video-game numbers, but he’s making plays and not beating his team. Against WVU, he threw for a touchdown. He caught a pass and turned it into a long touchdown catch-and-run. In the fourth quarter, Hill scored on the type of touchdown run that featured the type of hit that leaves a mark.
He also didn’t throw a pick, whereas the one Grier threw in the third quarter led directly to a TCU touchdown.
Hill is not Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. He’s not the NFL prospect like Grier or Rudolph. Hill, however, is 5-0 and the quarterback of a top 10 team that will be in the early discussion for college football playoff spot.
He has good toys around him, and against West Virginia, TCU’s special teams routinely bailed out Hill and his buddies. Punter Adam Nunez repeatedly pinned WVU inside the 5-yard line in the first half, the TCU kicker didn’t miss a field goal whereas West Virginia’s did, and the punt team also forced a fumble that led to a TCU touchdown.
Saturday was not a statistical banner day for TCU’s defense, but it made plays and stops when they had to be made.
TCU is not flush with NFL talent, but it is a team in the traditional, cliche sense.
That is what TCU has been for 20 years, and Saturday was not just another Saturday in the history of a program that is one of the true miracles of its sport.
This Saturday was remember-where-you-were special, fun and memorable from beginning to end.
None of us should ever take these types of days for granted, even if we are spoiled rotten.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof