Two more weeks remain in TCU’s 2015 regular season campaign, and the Horned Frogs’ chances of being the Big 12’s playoff contender are just about as beat up as TCU’s two-deep rotation.
However, far stranger things have happened in the history of college football than the possibility of a TCU comeback Big 12 title. And if there ever was a sport to give mind-boggling “that just happened” moments, it is college football.
As this buildup implies, it’s still not completely out of the question for TCU to still end up as the Big 12 champion, as well as be a representative of the league as a possible playoff contender. For all that to happen, here’s the most realistic scenario*:
*(For the sake of this exercise, Baylor will beat Texas for Baylor’s final game of the season.)
1) TCU must win out
The most obvious step of the process is for TCU to beat both Oklahoma and Baylor, two teams in the Big 12 that sport just one loss each - and hold higher priority seats when it comes to the Big 12 pecking order.
Because neither team has played Oklahoma State, TCU’s already lost ground to those two teams after losing to the Pokes two weeks back. However, if TCU runs the table and finishes with an 11-1 record, they’ll be guaranteed no worse than second place in the conference, as both the Sooners and Bears will have two conference losses.
Second is fine and dandy, and a lock for a NY6 bowl game, but it’s not going to be good enough. Thanks to the Big 12’s hasty offseason decision-making process, head-to-head is now an official tiebreaker, which would give Oklahoma State the undisputed Big 12 championship but it’s going to need help from
2) TCU needs to get help from their most hated rival and Oklahoma
It’s time to recognize something icky. The only way TCU gets to a Big 12 crown and a playoff spot is if Baylor breaks one of the worst streaks of college football by getting a win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater for the first time since Bill Snyder’s birth.
No, really. That is a real statistic.
The task is no small request. As TCU saw, Oklahoma State has a bullying defensive line and a set of ballhawks for defensive backs. They also feast on long, explosive plays - something Baylor couldn’t defend against Oklahoma last week.
Beyond that, even if the Baptists get a win over T. Boone Pickens’ beneficiaries, the Frogs need to cheer against Oklahoma State a second time. In order for TCU to get a second Big 12 football title, the Sooners have to prevail in this year’s Bedlam game, which very well may overshadow the 2015 edition of The Revivalry in terms of national attention.
The reason for this is that even if TCU wins out, Oklahoma State must lose two games for the Frogs to be the Big 12 Champion, due to the updated One True Champion rules. In a hypothetical situation, if TCU and Oklahoma State both finish with an 11-1 record, the Cowboys get the Big 12 hardware due to their head-to-head victory over TCU.
The rooting situation isn’t great for TCU fans. Then again, the situation of coming back from a hole to get into playoff chatter isn’t great for Horned Frogs fans either.
That’s where the third bit of outside help needs to come in. Even if TCU wins out, and gets outside help from both Baylor and OU, a third thing must happen before TCU can think about the playoffs.
3) Notre Dame needs to lose to Stanford
Even if TCU finishes 11-1, and Oklahoma State falters out, the Frogs aren’t going to the playoffs unless Notre Dame loses to Stanford.
With both Utah and Stanford losing last week, the Pac-12 champion will have at least two losses, rendering that Power-5 conference as the odd man out unless mass chaos happens. The SEC champion, whether it be Alabama or Florida, is virtually guaranteed a playoff spot.
Same to the winner of the Big Ten, which likely will come down to undefeated Iowa or Ohio State, or even a one-loss Michigan State. Unless Clemson runs into trouble with North Carolina for the ACC Championship game, it seems unlikely that the Tigers will be left out of the playoffs, leaving just one chair open for when the music ends.
And right now, that last guaranteed chair is going to be designated for either Notre Dame or the Big 12 champion.
With just one loss - and that one loss being a two-point road loss to the top team in the nation during a torrential downpour - Notre Dame is in control for that fourth playoff spot. Their last major test remains as Stanford, unless the Golden Domers stumble in Fenway Park against 3-7 Boston College.
With two losses, Stanford is likely out of the playoff picture. A win over Notre Dame would give Notre Dame a second loss as well, and more importantly, a loss in the Irish’s final week of the regular season. With wins over two highly ranked opponents in Oklahoma and Baylor, TCU’s strength of schedule will be too much to ignore, and an 11-1 TCU team will most certainly get entrance to the playoffs over a 10-2 Notre Dame.
That said, TCU’s still out of the hunt until they win out. With a huge game against Oklahoma coming up this week, and a week of short rest before slugging it out on Black Friday against Baylor, much is still on the Horned Frogs’ to-do list before considering the playoffs.
As head coach Gary Patterson has said many times this year, all TCU can control is how many games they can win. If they do that, the rest will be up to college football fate. The Frogs are banged up both on the field and in the rankings, but as TCU’s proven time and again this year, that hasn’t stopped them from winning.
And in college football, which has seen more insane finishes than any other sport in history, there’s always a chance for a last-minute comeback.