TCU in the Top 10: There and back again

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    The last time the Horned Frogs were in the Top 10, confetti rained down in Pasadena and TCU celebrated its first Rose Bowl win in the program’s history.

    Since that monumental victory on New Year’s Day of 2011, so much has changed for a TCU football team that finds itself ranked 9th in the nation heading into this weekend’s marquee matchup against Baylor.

    The changes began with the start of the 2011 season. TCU was ranked No. 14 in the country, a respectable placement considering the graduation of many Horned Frogs, such as quarterback Andy Dalton.

    However, an opening week heartbreaker of a loss to Baylor, 50-48 squashed any hopes of a return to the Rose Bowl.

    After a lackluster 11-2 season by TCU’s lofty Mountain West Conference standards, TCU accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 conference on July 1, 2012.

    TCU football, a powerhouse program for much of the previous decade, would now face conference foes such as Oklahoma and Texas instead of the Wyomings and Colorado States of the MWC.

    The Horned Frogs performed respectably in their first Big 12 season, recording memorable wins over Baylor, Texas and West Virginia, while losing a triple overtime nail-biter to Texas Tech.

    Many thought the Frogs would improve in 2013. It would be their sophomore season as a member of a “Power Five” conference, they would be better acclimated to the new level of competition, and the new recruiting classes would begin to make their impact.

    By TCU’s standards, the 2013 season was a debacle.

    The Frogs fought well against a tough LSU team in AT&T Stadium, but instability at the quarterback position and a lack of offensive firepower contributed to TCU missing a bowl game for the first time since 2004.

    Although, signs of life were still evident at the end of the 2013 season for the Horned Frogs. TCU lost its last three games by a combined total of eight points, and young members of the team were receiving valuable playing time.

    The start of the 2014 season brought lower expectations for the TCU football team as a whole.

    The Horned Frogs weren’t included in the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time in the post-Rose Bowl era, and no one was claiming TCU as a dark-horse contender for the BCS National Championship.

    Included in an offseason of change and reevaluation were the hires of Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie from Houston and Texas Tech, respectively.

    Both coaches were given the title of co-offensive coordinator, and quickly established the Air Raid offense as TCU’s new form of attack.

    The Horned Frogs jumped off to a fast start with their new fast-paced offense, but few noticed. It turns out that pummeling the likes of Samford and SMU doesn’t turn too many heads.

    It wasn’t until last weekend, when a national audience tuned in to watch a fourth-ranked Oklahoma team travel to a sold out Amon G. Carter Stadium, that people began to notice something brewing in Fort Worth.

    The TCU Horned Frogs upset a top-five team on national television, and the performance was impressive enough not to be declared a fluke victory.

    Coach Gary Patterson, the fundamental connection between this Top 10 team and TCU’s previous one, acted after the game as if this win over Oklahoma was always in the script.

    Quarterback Trevone Boykin, a player thriving under the new offensive scheme and posting the best numbers of his career, said his confidence is “off the charts right now.”

    TCU was rewarded for its efforts against an Oklahoma side that many considered to be title contenders, and the Frogs jumped 16 spots from 25th to 9th in the AP poll.

    All of this has led to this Saturday, when the undefeated Horned Frogs travel to take on the undefeated Baylor Bears in a game of major Big 12 title implications early on in the season.

    The notable matchup was almost compelling enough to convince ESPN’s College Gameday crew to visit Waco, the only obstacle being another high profile matchup between second and third-ranked Auburn and Mississippi State this weekend.

    The atmosphere at the TCU vs. Baylor game will most likely be rocking. Baylor will be playing its first Big 12 game in the new McLane Stadium, and TCU fans will be more eager to make the trip after such an electrifying win.

    Now ranked as one of the 10 best teams in the nation, TCU is no longer the underdog and they’re no longer underrated or overlooked.

    The Horned Frogs have been here before. Four seasons ago, to be exact. Patterson knows what to expect, and he’s said that the team can’t afford to revel in its statement victory over Oklahoma.

    Only a handful of players are left from the TCU team that won the Rose Bowl in 2011, including linebackers Marcus Mallett and Jonathan Anderson, and cornerback Kevin White.

    If these players want to end their 2014 season just 23 minutes from campus, at AT&T Stadium and surrounded by confetti, they should look to turn this temporary spot in the Top 10 into a permanent one.