TCU may have lost to a blue-blood, five-star roster in Ohio State on Saturday night, but it wasn't out-classed. There wasn't an athletic mismatch on the field.
"They're a very fast team," star Ohio State defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones said after the game. "Probably the fastest team I ever played since I've been in college."
I'm a big believer in the predictive power of recruiting rankings. The better you recruit, the higher your ceiling. The more highly rated recruiting classes you stack up, the stronger your competitive culture gets. Give me a team 25 random five stars over your 25 random three stars every year and I will beat you.
But outliers do exist, and no program is a prisoner to its recruiting limitations. In TCU's case, those limitations may actually perpetuate the culture that has driven it to the top of the Big 12 under Gary Patterson. He takes the "rejects," the guys the blue bloods don't have time to consider. That breeds an inherent edge, a chip on the shoulder that you can't fake or manufacture.
It's a TCU roster in contrast to the one it faced last weekend in Ohio State, but it exists practically in opposition of the one it faces this weekend with Texas. The Longhorns get who they want in their own state on the recruiting trail. TCU can choose from the rest. Texas could have had the guys on TCU's roster. It just didn't want them.
There isn't a single starter on TCU's defense that had a Texas offer. But let's not pick on the Longhorns here. Only one defensive starter, former four-star defensive tackle Corey Bethley, could even be described as highly recruited. Here's the unit the best defensive coach in the Big 12 wanted on his side:
- DE Ben Banogu -- Transfer from Louisiana-Monroe
- DT Terrell Cooper -- No Power Five offers
- LB Ty Summers -- Committed to TCU only after decommitting from Rice as a QB
- LB Arico Evans -- Only offers from Kansas and Texas Tech in Big 12
- LB Garret Wallow -- Louisiana native that LSU didn't recruit
- CB Jeff Gladney -- No Power Five offers
- CB Julius Lewis -- No Big 12 offers
- S Niko Small -- No Big 12 offers
- S Innis Gaines -- Only other Power Five offer was Arkansas
- S Ridwan Issahaku -- Georgia native with no other Power Five offers
The offensive side of the ball has a little bit more star power, but even that group only has three starters who actually had Texas offers.
The state of Texas has enough talent to go around, though, and Patterson has capitalized on a lot of the speediest overlooked examples. Those guys come in hungry and they get absorbed into a culture that's been in place at TCU since 2001. Meanwhile, Texas is in a perpetual state of freshmen arriving as saviors.
The buzzword at Texas since the waning years of Mack Brown's tenure has been "culture." The program has been on a constant quest to fix it. But no one in the program sets the tone for the culture more than the strength coach. Texas has had four of them in the last eight years. TCU has had one in the last 18, the entirety of Patterson's tenure, in Don Sommer. With that kind of continuity at TCU, there's a much greater latitude to work with on the recruiting trail and there's a higher hit rate on the roster.
Culture only changes with time and with continuity, with success and proof of concept. This weekend we'll find out how close Texas is to being recharged and reborn culturally because TCU is where the Longhorns want to be, even if it's there with a bunch of guys they didn't want.
1. No team's playoff hopes improved more than Notre Dame last weekend. That's an odd thing to write following an uninspiring showing against a Vanderbilt team that very nearly pulled a road upset. But when you look what else happened around college football, Notre Dame's brutal schedule is suddenly looking like a cake walk.
Two of the biggest headline matchups -- USC and Florida State -- lost in ugly fashion to Texas and Syracuse. An always competitive Northwestern team dropped its second straight with a loss to Akron. Virginia Tech needs to be recalibrated after its Florida State trouncing has been put into proper context. Navy has a loss to Hawaii on its resume. Pitt is one week removed from a 51-6 dismantling at the hands of Penn State. A 3-0 Syracuse is still Syracuse.
The next three weeks will be Notre Dame's toughest stretch of the season. A tricky Wake Forest team with a high-volume offense and a potent passing attack hosts the Irish this weekend followed by Stanford and Virginia Tech. Even Stanford is looking like a banged up version of itself.
If Notre Dame can somehow manage to go 3-0 over the next three games, gravity might just pull it into the playoffs given what the rest of the slate looks like. Notre Dame may become a great team. It isn't yet, though, and it may not even have to be to find itself among the last four standing. The decisive stretch starts now.
2. If Georgia is equipped to beat Alabama, we find out this weekend. I think Georgia has the makeup to give Alabama its best challenge. It's really well coached, outstanding on the offensive line, has athletes that can make contested plays and would expect to win. But this Alabama team is built differently than Alabama teams in years past and that is part of the reason why the Tide look so unstoppable. It's the same old Alabama with a passing game bolted on top and the best QB of Nick Saban's career.
Which brings us to Saturday's matchup between Georgia and Missouri. We know that Georgia has the DNA to stop the run and play big boy football. With Alabama's newly embraced versatility to play wide open and toss the ball around to a loaded receiving corps, Georgia needs to have the back end security as well.
This weekend is perhaps the only time all regular season in which Georgia's pass defense will face a dynamic, explosive passing unity. Led by Drew Lock and targets Emmanuel Hall, Johnathan Johnson and Albert Okwuegbunam, Georgia will have its hands full. If Missouri gets throttled, I think Georgia secures the No. 1 contender spot.
3. Keep an eye on Louisiana Tech cornerback Amik Robertson trying to defend LSU's passing game. I saw Robertson compete in a camp the winter after his junior season in high school, and he dominated a bunch of high profile wide receivers. He found out a few weeks later that he was doing it on a torn ACL. That's the kind of toughness and scrappiness the Thibodeaux, Louisiana native brings to the table. He's an undersized defender at only 5-foot-9 and he's closest thing to Tyrann Mathieu that the state of Louisiana has produced since the Honey Badger himself. In other words, he's a lot of fun to watch.
For Robertson, this will be a big opportunity. He was actually offered by LSU very late in the recruiting process, but the Tigers didn't quite have room to take him. Instead, he went off to Louisiana Tech where he was a freshman All-American last season after intercepting five passes, piling up 62 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss.
LSU is finally beginning to walk the walk of featuring its wide receivers downfield and if it wants to have success in the pass game on Saturday, it will need to go through Robertson.