As TCU fans, we're accustomed to taking the long view towards things and expect things to work out in the end- and for the most part it's worked out pretty well. We went from cellar dweller to champs of the WAC, moved up to CUSA and went from just a bowl team to the cusp of breaking through to the untouchable BCS. Then Southern Miss happened, followed by the disastrous 2004 football season that came at the worst time, keeping us out of the AQ Big East's expansion and leaving us scrambling for a new conference and ending up in the Mountain West. Still, we plugged along and actually were on the cusp of making the Mountain West into an AQ conference in its own right until the Big Ten and Pac Ten started the conference realignment kerfuffle. After that the Frogs were looking ahead to a new life in the Big East and possibly being part of the conference that would scoop up the remains of the Big 12 (back when the Pac 16 seemed to be a sure thing), only to end up fulfilling the dream that seemed impossible in the wake of the demise of the SWC and earning a spot in the Big 12. On the football field the Frogs went from three time "almost"s in the BCS buster camp to being put in the Separate-but-Equal Fiesta Bowl against Boise State and then onto the Rose Bowl triumph against Wisconsin, and then this year's Big 12 championship and bowl romp over the celebrated SEC, but as great as those seasons were, remember that in both cases TCU was one loss away from getting a shot at the one spot on the Gary Patterson pyramid of success that remains unfilled- the BCS championship game. The long view that we've been taking says that as long as we keep playing at a high level, Patterson stays on and the Frogs recruit well (which they're currently doing at an unprecedented clip) eventually the Frogs will get a shot at the national title, and it very well may. But the current focus needs to be on the short term, because we've seen how the smallest breaks have kept the Frogs out before, and this year so many things are lined up in the Frogs favor that to not get a shot at that elusive title this year would be a waste. Let's look at just what the Frogs have in their favor this year, and then how that may change in the years to come.
1.) The Frogs offense could be the best in school history. Again.
That the Frogs return 9 1/2 starters on offense (I'm counting Green as half, as he started about half the season last year) is wonderful news, but when you factor in just who those starters are, it's hard not to salivate at the thought of what the offense could do this year. 4 our of 5 starters on the offensive line return, TCU has its best ever wide receiver group ever returning (and I make the claim that they're the best top to bottom unit in the nation), and has a top 5 Heisman vote getter returning at quarterback to deliver the ball into their hands, along with a running back who should be a serious contender for the Doak Walker award this year (even if he's not the best back in football this year, the fact that the Doak has always had a bit of a Texan voting bias should make Green a high value bet to win). And TCU also returns both of its treasured co-offensive coordinators, giving all of those returning starters another year in the same funky system- which should add up to very big things.
But if it's not this year...
That the Frogs return 4/5 starters on the O-line is phenomenal, but that those 4 returning starters are all seniors (along with experienced backup Aviante Collins) is not so good for 2016. Then factor in the departures of Boykin, most of the aforementioned best WR unit in school history and that Doak Walker candidate and things look like they could be in full rebuild on offense after this year. Then if continued success leads to a HC position being dangled in front of one or both of our co-OCs, having great success this year becomes all the more important.
2.) The Frogs schedule is backloaded, but about as kind as it's going to get.
The Frogs have the perfect schedule to ease a talented, but relatively inexperienced defense into the season. Starting against what should be a good Minnesota team isn't great on paper, but a win will put the Frogs in primo poll position all year, and their offense is pretty well ideally suited to be stopped by a Gary Patterson defense. Outside of the fourth quarter in the Rose Bowl, can you remember a time when a team successfully sledgehammered the football against TCU's 4-2-5? And with the Gophers' top receiving threat being drafted last year I simply love the matchup. Last time I mused midweek I pointed out how awful at football SMU is, and while Morris may eventually salvage that sinking ship it's not going to happen this year. Playing on the road at Texas Tech will be dangerous, but while the Raiders came on a bit at the end of the year they'll be breaking in yet another defensive coordinator (their... I want to say sixth in five years?) and at this point I'll believe that they'll improve enough to knock off TCU when I see it. Texas' offense should be a bit better, but the defense will likely take a step back, meaning I like the Frogs to outpace the Horns once again, Iowa State is Iowa State, and Kansas State lost their QB as well as most of their back 7. Playing against these teams before the bye should give TCU's defense a good look at every system they'll see in the second half of the season, while also not putting them in too much danger of an upset, and it'll mean that they should be rounding into form when the second half meatgrinder kicks in. There is unrest in both programs North of the Red River, and I don't see Ok. State closing the gap on us that much in one season, while I think Oklahoma's relative lack of returning experience in the trenches should cost them, which means that while the schedule is difficult, it's not hard to envision TCU running through it in prime position to make the playoffs... until Baylor, which, at home on Black Friday has a bit of a 2009 TCU/Utah feel to it (I'm just saying). It's not the perfect schedule for going undefeated, and the Big 12 is continuing to bone us with a bye week the last week of the season in odd numbered years, but at this point it seems likely that TCU could be a solid favorite heading into every one of their games next season- which is about the best you can ask for.
But if it's not this year...
As much as TCU and Baylor fans are loving the way it's been working out lately, eventually Texas and Oklahoma are going to be back. They both have great coaches, the best facilities, and in their worst years they still outrecruit most teams during their best years. Kansas State is, bafflingly, never down for long, and Oklahoma State has their best coach since Jimmy Johnson (and will pay to either keep it that way or improve their situation if it goes pear shaped). Texas Tech is probably going to find a defensive coordinator that will stick around someday (but I suppose you never bet against the streak), and in general the Big 12 will continue on the uptick. TCU will be in the thick of things, of course, I believe we have the best coach in the conference and the recruiting has been phenomenal lately, but there simply aren't going to be a big number of years where TCU goes into a season the betting favorite to win the Big 12. Now is the time to do it.
3.) Nationally the field is as open as it's ever been.
When you look around the country and talk about who's making the playoff things are about as interesting as I can remember as a fan. Yes, defending champ Ohio State is tentatively written in one of the four boxes, they have a ton of talent returning on offense (including 2 Big Ten players of the year and the guy who won the first playoff at QB), but look around at the other usual suspects. Oregon is replacing its Heisman winning quarterback, half their offensive line and most of their secondary, it's not hard to see someone finally catching them in the Pac. Alabama is losing their starting QB, most of their WR group (including their Heisman finalist) and Auburn is in a similar state on offense, meaning the most complete returning team in the SEC is Ole Miss, who you may remember. Florida State lost their former Heisman winner and most of their OL, and those who are believing in Clemson should look a little harder at what the Tigers are returning on defense. Obviously someone somewhere is going to step up and be really good, but there's only one team in the country likely to start ranked ahead of the Frogs for good reason.
But if it's not this year...
As we saw this year, the Big 12 isn't always going to get the benefit of the doubt- the SEC has won a bunch of titles this decade as I'm sure you're aware, Oregon is always hanging around the top 5 and USC is finally rebuilding from the sanctions out west, Urban Meyer is the best coach in the country (outside of Fort Worth) and both teams in Michigan should regularly be good, and the ACC... is still really overrated in my mind, but Florida State and Clemson both build up a lot of talent, and if they go undefeated they'll get in. There will always be good teams out there (including this year) but rarely are there so many question marks among the national powers going into a football season- and we need to capitalize on it.
In the end TCU will be all right, no matter what happens this year. The Frogs still have one of the nation's best coaches, are in a great conference that will get the winner in the national conversation every year, and are recruiting at an unprecedented level. Things could very well just keep getting better and better for TCU going forward- I'm still one of the long view fans that I mentioned in the first paragraph too- but if the Frogs don't end up capitalizing with a playoff run this season, I think that we'll look back and kick ourselves over this year for a long time to come.