This year, all the Horned Frogs have to do is hold on.
Nearly every major poll has TCU ranked as the No. 2 team in the country, behind the defending champion Ohio State Buckeyes (OSU). While OSU received every first place vote in the Associated Press poll, the Frogs snagged a solitary first place vote in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
The Frogs are the highest ranked team in both Texas and the entire Big 12 Conference. The Baylor Bears come in at No. 4 in both the AP and coaches’ polls, and the Oklahoma Sooners are the only other Big 12 team featured in the rankings, hovering around the No. 18 spot.
It’s a unique position for the Frogs, although it’s one that head coach Gary Patterson is addressing in typical “Coach P” fashion.
“It’s all great and fine,” Patterson said at Big 12 Media Days this summer, “but it’s kind of like winning any awards. You can put them all in the closet because it doesn’t mean anything to anybody anymore when we play Minnesota.”
Still, the high preseason ranking has caused a shift in the way Patterson and his coaching staff motivate the team. Quarterback Trevone Boykin said that the Frogs have been forced to update their motto.
“Our motto has changed from prove them wrong to prove them right,” Boykin said. “Last year coming off a 4-8 season they told us what we didn’t have and what we couldn’t do. We knew we had a ton of talent. It was all about the mindset.”
Making school history
The No. 2 ranking is only the third time TCU has ever been ranked higher than third.
The undefeated 1938 national champion team under Dutch Meyer finished the year ranked first in the AP poll. Over 70 years later, the Rose Bowl-winning 2010-11 team ended the year ranked No. 2.
The national championship that the Frogs claimed in 1935 occurred before season-ending rankings were instituted.
The 2010-11 team began the year ranked No. 6, and although TCU went undefeated that year, they were shut out of the BCS National Championship Game.
This year, if the Frogs can go without a loss, they’ll more than likely find themselves in prime position to earn the third national championship in school history.
A dissenting opinion
While most voter polls have the Frogs in line for one of the final four playoff spots, one college football analyst thinks that TCU shouldn’t rest on its laurels just yet.
Connelly said in a phone interview on Monday that while he believes the Frogs have the potential to be just as good of a team as anyone else in college football, their results last year lacked consistency.
“TCU’s issue last year was that when they were good they were phenomenal, but they had some less than impressive results,” Connelly said. “I don’t trust the offense as much as others do.”
Connelly also said that TCU benefitted from an unusually large amount of luck last year, which factored into his statistics-based rankings. For example, the Frogs recovered six out of nine fumbles in the last-second win against West Virginia, a recovery rate that is almost unheard of.
“It can make you seem like a clutch team, winning a bunch of close games, but sometimes that’s just luck,” Connelly said. “Still, just because they were lucky one year doesn’t mean they won’t be lucky the next.”
The back-loaded schedule for the Frogs, which can give a young defensive backfield or linebacker corps time to improve before the meaty part of the schedule, may be their biggest saving grace.
“They’re going to be inconsistent early on defense,” Connelly said. “The schedule will help the offense pick up the slack until the TCU defense looks like the TCU defense again.”