We’ve made it. It’s only Week 6, and we’ve already reached the point in the season when the only thing that makes sense is chaos. Teams that were once thought to be dominant suddenly seem vulnerable. Programs that were once deemed to be doormats have shown flashes of brilliance. Good is bad, bad is good, and projecting the College Football Playoff field is something near impossible.
Texas looked totally listless in a 50–7 defeat last week. This Saturday it stunned Oklahoma 24–17 in the Red River Rivalry. Washington State took a loss to FCS Portland State in Week 1. This weekend it took down Oregon in double overtime. Northwestern entered Saturday’s game with the top-ranked scoring defense in the nation. It was thoroughly outclassed by Michigan 38–0.
Which brings us to TCU. The No. 2 Horned Frogs (6–0) escaped Kansas State with a 52–45 win. For most of Saturday, they played from behind. Their depleted defense—which lost tons of talent during the off-season (linebacker Paul Dawson, cornerback Kevin White and safety Sam Carter, among others) and then more than half of their starters to injury in the early weeks of the 2015 campaign—was exposed, allowing 364 yards of total offense, 239 on the ground. But they won. And in a season in which nothing is quite as it seems, that’s the difference between remaining atop the rankings and being relegated to the middle of the pack.
Entering halftime TCU trailed 35–17. It launched its comeback with a 60-yard pick-six by senior safety Derrick Kindred, which cut the Horned Frogs’ deficit to 11. An eight-yard, third-quarter scamper by senior tailback Aaron Green sliced Kansas State's lead to four, and TCU seemed poised to turn an upset bid into a blowout.
But Kansas State, as it so often does, struck back. Sophomore quarterback Joe Hubener rushed for his fourth touchdown of the night, extending the Wildcats’ advantage to 42–31. After TCU climbed back within five (its two-point conversion attempt following a score failed), Kansas State took over possession with seven minutes left and a chance to salt away the game.
Yet that’s when the Horned Frogs found a way to win. They forced a punt, scored a quick touchdown—senior quarterback Trevone Boykin broke free and sprinted 69 yards to the end zone—and then got the ball back with the scored tied at 45. Boykin hit wide-open senior receiver Josh Doctson for a 55-yard knockout punch of a score. Crisis, once again, averted.
Let’s make one thing clear: TCU is an extremely good football team. Boykin is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate, and Doctson should be considered the Biletnikoff Award favorite; the dynamic wideout now has made 50 catches for 877 yards with 10 touchdowns this season. Green is also far more electric than most fans outside of the Big 12 realize; he opened Saturday’s scoring with an 86-yard kickoff return for a score and carried 11 times for 121 yards in the victory.
Still, ever since losing a 61–58 thriller at Baylor last October, TCU has shown a knack for pulling out zombie-like triumphs. It probably should have fallen last November at West Virginia; somehow, it won 31–30. It was in danger of losing to lowly Kansas a few weeks later, but emerged 34–30. And on Sept. 26 of this year, it was on the verge of crumbling at Texas Tech. It won 55–52, thanks largely to an improbable tip and Green being in the right place at the right time.
At some point, however, dramatic victories stop being the sign of good fortune and start being the sign of a team that knows how to win. That’s where the Horned Frogs are now. They’re talented but flawed with an unmistakable killer instinct.
This season might not feature a singularly great team. It might showcase a lot of very good ones, which are differentiated by some combination of logic and luck and late-game magic. For the second time this fall, TCU found a way to win a game it easily could have lost. And while chaos has flattened the college football landscape, there’s something to be said for the program that keeps standing.