FORT WORTH, Texas -- Roll Toad, indeed.
That's what a sign in the TCU stands read Saturday night, an appropriate saying college football should probably get on board with, given what the No. 6 Horned Frogs did, rolling to a 40-21 win over No. 7 Kansas State in front of 48,012.
The Wildcats boasting the best defense in the Big 12? Tell that to TCU and its 553 yards of total offense.
The Horned Frogs being all about the vaunted Air Raid attack? Check out their 334 rushing yards against a unit that typically gives up 100 a game.
And the big picture on a chaos-filled Saturday? With the win -- TCU’s fourth since its disastrous fourth quarter in a 61-58 loss to Baylor on Oct. 11 -- the Horned Frogs look primed for a waltz into the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Asked if he thinks his team just made a statement to the rest of the country, running back Aaron Green was short: “Man, I hope so.”
There’s some thought that the Big 12’s lack of a conference championship game could come back and bite TCU, or Baylor, depending on which team wins the league. But consider this: The Horned Frogs already have wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia and have a more impressive nonconference schedule than Baylor. (Say what you want about Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers are 7-2.) And the Frogs don’t exactly have Murderers’ Row in November: TCU will finish the regular season with games at Kansas, at Texas and home against Iowa State.
So, will it be tough for coach Gary Patterson to keep his guys focused on the task at hand? He thinks not.
“We were 4-8 last year,” he said. “4-8. They’ve already been through all that. I don’t have a problem pounding in any [message]. They knew how they felt, what happened … if we don’t see what we have in front of us, I can’t help them.”
Much has been made about TCU’s offensive transformation this season, year three of the Horned Frogs’ Big 12 tenure. The show stars junior quarterback Trevone Boykin, who has burst onto the Heisman Trophy scene and will stay there so long as he stays healthy. He’s crucial to TCU’s run, and he knows it. He also knows what lies ahead for his team and embraces it.
“We want that target on our back,” Boykin said.
On Saturday against the Wildcats, Boykin passed for 219 yards with one touchdown, rushed for 123 yards with three scores and provided the highlight of the night when he front-flipped into the end zone to give TCU a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter, much to the apprehension of Patterson.
“There are a lot of things I’m not comfortable with,” Patterson said, “but those are also the things that make him good.”
Boykin was hardly the only TCU player to shine.
The Horned Frogs missed starting running back B.J. Catalon against Kansas State, but Green filled in admirably, totaling 176 rushing yards with one touchdown on 18 carries. His breakthrough came midway through the third quarter, when he exploded for a 65-yard score that put TCU up 31-14. Kansas State has made a living on not beating itself, but the Wildcats are also not built for a big comeback.
Green said he wasn’t overly excited when he heard he’d be starting -- and clearly he was paying attention when Patterson told his guys that championship teams have championship first and second units, and stepping up was part of the job.
All this, and still no talk about the defense.
Patterson is a misfit in his profession, a coach who values defense over high-octane offense. The Horned Frogs changed their offensive scheme this year to keep up with the rest of the Big 12, but TCU will forever be rooted in a stingy defense. Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters was held mostly in check, completing 20-of-37 passes for 291 yards with two touchdowns and one late interception that sucked any life left right out of the Kansas State sideline. Receiver Tyler Lockett racked up 196 yards on 11 catches, but he was the only offensive threat, as TCU made the Wildcats entirely one dimensional. They came into Saturday averaging almost 173 rushing yards per game. They finished Saturday with a whopping 34.
And yet Patterson still found a reason to be displeased. “As usual, I’m mad about their last touchdown,” he said, referencing Kansas State’s six-yard touchdown run with 1:36 to play.
Still, Patterson conceded he would probably enjoy this win -- the first over his alma mater in three tries -- for a few hours Saturday night. “Maybe I’ll even smile,” he deadpanned.
How the playoff committee sorts all this out is its own headache to deal with. There is a chance Baylor will also finish the regular season 11-1 with a head-to-head edge over TCU. Just remember that coaches repeat that old cliché “defense wins championships” for a reason: It’s true. But TCU learned after two years in the Big 12 that offense is a necessary complement. Now it has both and, as a result, a clear path to the postseason.