FORT WORTH, Texas -- One year ago, TCU was sitting at home, its season having concluded. The Horned Frogs missed a bowl game for just the third time since 2005 leading to the program making a change at head coach for the first time in more than two decades. 

TCU hired Sonny Dykes on Nov. 29, 2021. Fast forward to the present, and the Frogs are the first Big 12 team to go 12-0 since the conference shifted to a round-robin schedule in 2012 and are set to play No. 10 Kansas State at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday in hopes of winning the first outright Big 12 championship in program history and punching a ticket to the College Football Playoff. 

"I've been thinking about it a lot lately, since it's almost been a year," defensive back Mark Perry, a Colorado transfer, said. "I never really had any expectations to be sitting here at 12-0 getting ready to compete for a Big 12 championship. It's everything I could have dreamed of." 

Saturday is more than an opportunity for the program to capture a rare conference crown. It's also an opportunity to reintroduce the Big 12. Since Texas and Oklahoma finalized plans to leave for the SEC in 2025, four different teams have played for a conference championship: Oklahoma State and Baylor last year, Kansas State and TCU this year. 

TCU, however, has the opportunity to join Oklahoma as the only members of the Big 12 to earn a trip to the College Football Playoff and establish its spot as the premier program as the conference landscape prepares to shift with the departure of the Longhorns and Sooners. 

"It's been so much fun to be a part of this team because I think we've done a remarkable job of [handling the moment] -- and I'm not quite sure why," Dykes said. "Once we're done, we'll sit down as a staff and say, 'why did we handle this so well? Was it something we did? Is it something they did?' We'll kind of go back and figure out a way to bottle it in some ways." 

The first-year transformation is virtually unprecedented. Since the CFP started in 2014, there has never been a first-year coach to lead his program to the playoff. The closest was Kirby Smart, who shook off a 7-6 first season to guide Georgia to the national championship game in his second year. For comparison, the four coaches involved in the College Football Playoff last season -- Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh, Kirby Smart and Luke Fickell -- had a total of 33 years of experience at their jobs. USC coach Lincoln Riley could lead the Trojans to the playoff in his first year as well; but unlike the Trojans, who stocked their roster with star transfers, TCU is doing it with effectively the same group that went 5-7 last season. 

Dykes stands in stark contrast to his competitors with a coaching career featuring names like Louisiana Tech, Cal, Texas Tech and SMU. Smart is a national championship-winning coach at Alabama and Georgia. Harbaugh led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. Riley has coached blue bloods Oklahoma and now USC. 

Dykes' low-key confidence has found the perfect home at TCU, though. 

"He doesn't say much, he's not a head coach who's going to say a lot of words," Perry said. "He's going to give it to you straight up. He likes to say to 'do your job.' I think everybody takes that into their mentality every day." 

TCU has been one of the most resilient teams in America during its run into the top three. The Frogs' schedule ranks as the second-hardest of any top-10 team in the Sagarin Ratings, eclipsed only by Kansas State because the Wildcats had to play TCU. The Frogs rank No. 1 nationally in strength of record, which combines the difficulty of opponents with the results. Quarterback Max Duggan has led multiple comebacks to emerge as a Heisman Trophy contender. 

"I don't get a sense that the guys are tight or anything like that," Dykes said. "I think they're just excited about the opportunity. I think that feeling comes from the belief that they have confidence and that they're prepared. That's what's great about this group." 

Unlike the Big Ten or SEC, the Big 12 Championship Game doesn't simply serve up a lesser opponent on a platter through a divisional setup. Instead, thanks to the 1-vs-2 setup, TCU is the only playoff contender set to play a top-10 opponent as a rematch with Kansas State awaits. The Horned Frogs had to overcome a 28-10 first-half deficit against the Wildcats to escape 38-28 thanks to a bevy of KSU quarterback injuries. Kansas State has only won one outright conference championship since 1934, and the 'Cats won't go down easy. 

Criticisms of the continuing Big 12 are simple: None of the 12 teams in the new league have won national championships in the modern era. TCU won titles in 1935 and 1938 ... but winning with Davey O'Brien isn't the best indicator of prestige in 2022. The Horned Frogs can shut that down in one fell swoop in Arlington, Texas. 

TCU football has put together one of the true blue-collar stories in college football, winning its way up from the WAC to the national stage over the last 20 years; fighting its way to 12-0 is just the latest chapter in that journey. And with a premier championship slot on Saturday, the Horned Frogs will have America's attention as they to punch their ticket. 

"Bringing [a Big 12 title] back to Fort Worth would mean everything," three-year starting offensive lineman Steve Avila said. "Not just for me, for the fans and everyone who lives here, but most of all for my teammates. We've been through so much. So many things have happened, especially for the people who decided to stay and trust this coaching staff."