TCU vs. West Virginia score: Horned Frogs take control of Big 12 with important win
TCU, not Oklahoma, leads the Big 12 pack after Saturday's games
In the spirit of Halloween and horror movies, the Big 12's College Football Playoff hopes didn't die in Week 6. They just ambiguously seemed doomed off-screen.
That death seemed to occur when Oklahoma to Iowa State 38-31. The Sooners were the preseason Big 12 favorite, and after an impressive nonconference win at Ohio State, they felt like the best opportunity for the Big 12 to make the final four. Technically, that opportunity still exists. The Sooners know better than anyone you can slip up midseason against a middle-to-lower tier conference team and accomplish your postseason goals. They did just that in 2015 when they made the Orange Bowl semifinal after losing to a Texas team (by seven in early October) that eventually finished 5-7.
And, yet, here comes TCU at 5-0 and now with two impressive wins in back-to-back order. The Frogs' road victory over Oklahoma State was the statement that they were to be taken seriously in the Big 12 title race. The 31-24 win over West Virginia on Saturday was the proof that Gary Patterson's team could handle the spotlight of a top-10 ranking.
It was a struggle, but beating West Virginia was of the "survive and advance" variety. The Frogs didn't play their best defense, as the Mountaineers outgained them 508-406. (West Virginia found out, too, that life is far more enjoyable when you're not starting every offensive drive in the shadow of your own goal post.) There were some memorable late-game calls that went TCU's way. David Sills' offensive pass interference, one of two West Virginia penalties on the day and the interception thrown by Hill that was overturned.
When challenged, though, Patterson responded in two critical ways. After West Virginia scored on back-to-back touchdown strikes in the third quarter to tie the game at 17, Patterson let the offense get creative. On a 2nd-and-8, TCU dialed up a double pass from Hill to KaVontae Turpin and back to Hill, who ran 48 yards for a score. It was one of three touchdowns for Hill on the day, coming in each variety possible.
The other was a 13-play, 65-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter when the game was again tied to squeeze any last bit of life left in West Virginia's defense. When TCU needed to respond, it did.
TCU doesn't have the signature nonconference win that Oklahoma has. In fact, the September win over Arkansas looks decidedly meh now that the Razorbacks are 2-3 with little relief in sight. Barring a massive turnaround that would start with beating Alabama in Week 7, TCU's win over Arkansas won't mean much in the strength-of-schedule argument. Even in this four spots for five power conferences' deal, going unbeaten is the best route. Historically, the math simply doesn't show that four teams will finish undefeated.
TCU's win plus Oklahoma's loss means it stands alone at the front of the Big 12 standings. It's a surprise given the offseason hype for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and there will be challenges ahead that will test how well the Horned Frogs are ready to handle the moment. Up next is a road trip to Kansas State (no easy task), plus late-season road games at Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. The work is far from over.
Still, Patterson has a team capable of doing what no one realistically picked them to do just a couple of months ago. The trendy storyline will be the comparison to the 2014 team that finished 12-1, but infamously tied for the conference title with Baylor and missed out on the playoff by dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 after beating Iowa State 55-3. That marked the end of the Big 12's "One True Champion" as we know it.
Comparisons are tricky, but there is a chance to rectify a past shortcoming. If TCU keeps winning -- it's already guaranteed to move up at least on spot by tomorrow -- then the playoff committee will have no choice but to recognize it.
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