With no championship game in the Big 12 and a woeful opponent in its regular-season finale, TCU doesn't have as many chances as competing schools to polish its credentials for the College Football Playoff selection committee.
The sixth-ranked Horned Frogs didn't aid their cause with a close win against lowly Kansas before a bye week, and that leaves Thursday night's visit to Texas as perhaps their last prime opportunity to make a stronger case.
TCU (9-1, 6-1) dropped from No. 4 to No. 5 in the CFP rankings Nov. 18 and out of position for a playoff berth after needing to rally from a 10-point deficit against Kansas for a 34-30 win Nov. 15. The eight-loss Jayhawks then gave up an FBS-record 427 rushing yards to Oklahoma's Samaje Perine in a 44-7 drubbing Saturday.
The teams in front of the Horned Frogs - Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State - have either high-profile games this week or a conference championship - or both - to boost their resumes.
Among the other teams competing with TCU to get into the top four, Big 12 rival Baylor has a game against Kansas State, No. 12 in the CFP, in its regular-season finale Dec. 6 and already has a win over the Horned Frogs. Ohio State is heading to a Big Ten championship matchup against Wisconsin or Minnesota, two teams currently in the CFP Top 25.
Barring a fortunate string of upsets, TCU will likely need to close out the regular season in dominant fashion to have a chance to get into the top four. It will play Iowa State, 2-8 overall and winless in the Big 12, in its finale Dec. 6.
"Our job is to keep our nose down and to finish the journey. That's what we're trying to get accomplished," coach Gary Patterson said.
The Horned Frogs, winners of five in a row, are also competing with Baylor and Kansas State for its first Big 12 title, and will try to remain in first place and end Texas' three-game win streak.
The Longhorns (6-5, 5-3) beat then-No. 24 West Virginia 33-16 on Nov. 8 to end a seven-game skid against Top 25 opponents, which included four defeats this season. They then became bowl eligible in their first season under Charlie Strong with a 28-7 victory at Oklahoma State on Nov. 15 as Tyrone Swoopes threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns.
"This is the best football we've played in November since I've been here," said John Harris, a fifth-year senior wide receiver. "(A 23-0 loss to Kansas State on Oct. 25) was a turning point for this team. We made up our minds we had to be better."
Texas yielded just 192 yards to Oklahoma State and have allowed an average of 12.0 points in its three games in November, but will face one of the Big 12's most dynamic offenses, led by Heisman Trophy contender Trevone Boykin.
TCU's 45.9 points per game trail only Baylor's 50.0 in FBS, and its 541.6 yards per contest rank in the top five. The Horned Frogs also have one of the nation's best turnover margins at plus-14.
Averaging a conference-best 356.9 total offensive yards, Boykin has kept TCU on track even with running back B.J. Catalon out the past two games.
It's unknown if Catalon, who also has one of the best kick return averages at 31.8 yards, will be available. He hasn't played since taking a hard hit in the final seconds of a 31-30 win at West Virginia on Nov. 1.
Boykin ran for a career-best 123 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-20 victory over then-No. 9 Kansas State on Nov. 8, and Aaron Green has totaled 299 yards and three TDs in the past two weeks.
"All of our running backs have played a part ... and Aaron has had a couple of big ballgames that have really made a difference for us," Patterson said.
The Horned Frogs have been held to less than 300 yards while splitting their first two Big 12 matchups with Texas. They had to deal with poor weather conditions, which caused a delay of three-plus hours, in a 30-7 home loss to the Longhorns on Oct. 26, 2013, and were outgained 415-246.
TCU snapped a 15-game losing streak in Austin on Nov. 22, 2012, with a 20-13 win over the then-No. 18 Longhorns.
Texas hasn't won three straight at home since 2009.