[Note: this summary (minus several photos, and more recent material) of TCU's football history was originally posted at The Thwarth's Wimple on September 20, 2006. It was substantially updated a year later at the Purple Wimple's blogger.com incarnation, and appeared with further updates in September 2010 at the Purple Wimple's fantake.com incarnation. Frogs o' War heartily recommends Caroline Collier's feature The Frogs Rise Again, published in the Fort Worth Weekly, November 24, 2009. Also, peruse the links embedded throughout this post. They are to contemporary news articles and game summaries that make for very interesting reading. Finally, I apologize for some formatting errors herein, and for broken links.]
TCU traces its football origins to 1896, when it was still AddRan College in Waco, Texas. The school played its cross-town rival, Baylor, twice a year. After moving to Fort Worth, rivaling SMU in the new Southwest Conference, TCU football flourished. In the first 37 years TCU was a member of the SWC, from 1923 to 1960, the Horned Frogs were consistently the best team in the Southwest Conference. They won more national championships, conference championships, went to more bowl games, produced more all-Americans, the Conference’s first Heisman Trophy winner; became the first SWC school to play in the Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl and Bluebonnet Bowl, and maintained a winning edge over all six of their conference opponents. Read Dan Jenkins’ colorful reminisce of that period here.
In 1935, TCU and SMU battled for a bid to the Rose Bowl, in the "Game of the Century" (see highlights here; Time Magazine’s report). Quarterback Sam Baugh (who came to TCU to play baseball, but was convinced by Coach Dutch Meyer to play football instead) led Meyer’s revolutionary "spread" attack of short passes on any down first in college and then in the pros, leading the Horned Frogs and then Washington Redskins each to their first national titles. (Here’s the TCU Magazine‘s posthumous feature on Baugh.) Baugh’s successor Davey O’Brien took TCU to its second title, and won the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp trophies for his unbeaten 1938 campaign.
The 1950s Resurgence
The spread offense went out of style, but the Horned Frogs flourished again in the 1950s under Abe Martin, playing in the Cotton Bowl four times, including a win over Jim Brown and Syracuse in 1957. Jim Swink led the squad in the late ’50s. (This SI.com writeup about the ’57 season, and the pre-game photo at left, which Sports Illustrated named its photo of the century for the 1900s, is spectacular.) TCU expanded the football stadium, nearly doubling its seating capacity, and adding the distinctive upper deck that still dominates the southwest Fort Worth landscape. (until it didn’t, that is)
The Frogs won and finished the season ranked 11 and 9 in the AP and Coaches polls. Coach Patterson turned down a top-tier coaching post in the Big 12, signaling that his optimistic statements about TCU contending for a BCS bowl and national title were more than coach-speak.
During the off season, the BCS cartel relaxed the admission rules for the lucrative BCS bowls. The Frogs began 2006 as the most prominent non-cartel contenders for a top-tier bowl, cementing that status with a defensive masterpiece against Texas Tech, holding the normally explosive Red Raiders to just one field goal. The Frogs didn’t find their own offense until two conference losses had accumulated, tumbling out of the rankings and the national media attention once again. Jeff Ballard led the team to second place in the conference by the end of the season, cracking the top 25 in December, and decimating NIU in the Poinsettia Bowl with a suffocating, second-ranked defense. Meanwhile, the WAC champion Boise State followed Utah’s lead to the Fiesta Bowl, and its memorable upset of Oklahoma.
The 2007 season seemed custom-made for showcasing TCU’s resurgent program. However, days before the season began, the defensive line turned into a work in progress, with Tommy Blake and James Vess absent; injuries and a couple suspensions decimated the backfield. Turnovers plagued the offense, and after an emotional loss in Austin, the Frogs went on to lose 4 conference games– Air Force, Wyoming, Utah, and BYU, by a total of 18 points, but win a bowl berth, and the bowl, too. The program had reached the point where a bad season no longer meant a bowl-less one.
Meanwhile, Utah achieved a BCS berth from the second tier Mountain West conference- decimating Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. ConferenceUSA was gutted in a flurry of re-alignments; Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati joined the Big East, a cartel conference, again leaving TCU behind. TCU joined the Mountain West that summer.
In 2008, the MWC became increasing visible, as DirecTV began carrying its network, the mtn. TCU’s defense returned to high form (#1 nationally), and the Frogs snuck up on BYU, handing the Cougars their first conference loss in over two years. The Frogs came within a missed field goal of the conference championship and an invitation to the Sugar Bowl.
The Horned Frogs finally found the heretofore elusive mix in 2009, when they replaced offensive coordinators (sending Mike Schultz to Illinois, where Schultz efficiently sunk that offense, and was fired) and suddenly found themselves well-balanced, even in big games. Yes, there had been a talent upgrade in the works, but the Frogs returned much of their offense for the ’09 season, and with the new coordinators and an influential new receivers coach (Rusty Burns), the offense went ballistic. TCU improved from the 21st best scoring offense and 24th best total offense in 2008 to 5th and 7th best in ’09, respectively. And this while fielding the nation’s best defense, again led by two-time All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes.
Dalton’s connection with his wideouts had weaponized. (Dalton’s passer rating jumped from 129 in 2008 to 151, not least because of Antoine Hicks’s knack for finding the endzone on long receptions.) Joe Turner, Matt Tucker, and Ed Wesley ran all over the competition– and when they were given the reigns to do so, the Frogs were unstoppable. TCU notably won in the rain at Clemson, and in finger-freezing cold at Air Force, and then trod all the heck over BYU in Provo, Utah in Fort Worth, and everybody else in between. ESPN Gameday was on hand for the wins against BYU and Utah, the second of which came before the biggest crowd ever at TCU (50,307). By year’s end, the Frogs had outgained their conference opponents by 261 yards, on average– the largest margin of any 1A team over its conference foes in at least three years. These efforts landed Gary Patterson nine national coach of the year awards.
The only blemish: the culminating game of the season was the Fiesta Bowl, against Boise State, another non-cartel team. The Frogs went into that historic matchup feeling like they had been robbed of a chance to best a BCS legacy program, and in the end left losers. Maddengly, the Frogs chose not to try and run the ball in the face of an unexpectedly realigned Boise defense. Shorn of its balance, the Frog offense sputtered, and TCU lost the defensive slugfest, 17-10.
TCU’s loss in Glendale lowered its national rank to #6– which was higher than earlier years’ teams would have dreamed of finishing. Remarkably, the Frogs will start 2010 ranked about the same– 6– and won’t be the highest ranked non-cartel team. Boise will start at #2 or #3. Replacing only one starter, really, on offense (left tackle Marshall Newhouse), the Frogs should field their most explosive offense, ever. The defense, while replacing Jerry Hughes, Daryl Washington, and two four-year starters at CB (Nick Sanders and Raphael Priest), shouldn’t fall too far from its habitual #1 national ranking.
So the experiment has changed: yes, a clean-run non-cartel program can break into the big-money bowls; can it sustain that kind of success into a realistic run at the biggest bowl of them all? Given their returning experience, talent, and starting position, 2010 looked like the Frogs’ best chance.
TCU lived up to their billing in 2010, led by seniors like the nation’s winningest active quarterback Andy Dalton, Rimington winner Jake Kirkpatrick, and all-Americans Marcus Cannon, Jeremy Kerley, TeJay Johnson, and Wayne Daniels. The team was favored in every one of its contests, and reeled off another loss-less regular season. By the time the Frogs headed west for their first-ever Rose Bowl, Dalton had a passer rating of 167, and a solid hold on every passing record in school history (save career winning percentage). Ed Wesley had turned in the first 1000-yard rushing season since Robert Merrill’s in 2003. The program had a invitation to the Big East, and was beginning a full-scale renovation of Amon Carter Stadium.
The trip to Pasadena was a brilliant success; beating Wisconsin 21-19 was one of the biggest victories in TCU's storied history; it was easily the biggest in Gary Patterson's tenure. It raised TCU's profile in the market of college football so that when the Big 12 needed to add teams to replace Texas A&M and Missouri, it reached out to TCU. But there was football still to play.
In 2011 TCU battled for the first time in four years without Andy Dalton, Jeremy Kerley, and Jimmy Young on offense, and Tejay Johnson, Cory Grant, and Kelly Griffin on defense. The season opened with a sensational, heart-breaking loss in Waco. But the gutsy performance of quarterback Casey Pachall, who led the team out of a 24-point deficit in the fourth quarter to retake the lead (only to see Baylor recapture it) all while playing through visibly debilitating leg cramps, was not only inspiring-- it presaged the team's showdown with Boise State. BSU, new to the Mountain West for 2011, has convinced its new conference to move the game, originally scheduled in Fort Worth, to Boise. With Heisman finalist Kellen Moore returning, Boise fully expected to run the table and be, again, in the mix for a national title. The Frogs, 7-2, went to Boise as 17-point underdogs, and beat the Broncos on the blue turf by one point. It was a monumental victory-- the first by a visitor on the smurf turf in several years. It knocked Boise State out of the lead for the conference championship, and out of the the running for the national title, a BCS berth, and even a conference championship.
In so many ways, TCU's addition to the Big 12 will be a homecoming. For the first time since Bill Clinton was president, the Frogs will rejoin the conference of their traditional foes, Texas and Baylor. TCU looks to bring one of its most potent offenses and defenses to the conference, and likely will be a contender for the championship right out of the gate.
[photos: (top to bottom) TCU Stadium in the 1940s, TCU at halftime during the 1957 Cotton-Bowl, TCU beats Texas in the 1960s, TCU v. Texas in 1994, Basil Mitchell runs past USC at the 1998 Sun Bowl, LT runs for 406 yards against UTEP, Coach Patterson celebrates TCU's victory over OU in Norman in 2005, TCU v. Texas Tech in 2006, Jeff Ballard scores against NIU in 2006, Antoine Hicks scores, 2009, Matthew Tucker's one (!$#%$^!) touch during the Fiesta Bowl, 2010, Andy Dalton at the Fiesta Bowl, 2009.]