It was a year ago that TCU and Baylor football found themselves on just about polar opposite ends of the college football spectrum, only holding the Lone Star State and Big 12 Conference in common.
On one end, a top 25 Horned Frogs team was playing for a trip to the Big 12 Championship Game and an outside chance of cracking the College Football Playoff. Across the sidelines, the 1-win Bears could only focus on trying to ruin their rivals’ entire season in what would be their final game of a tumultuous year across the board.
And ahead of that game, TCU head coach Gary Patterson just about summed it up perfectly for a Baylor team that had nothing to play for other than the role of spoiler.
“Baylor will not be going to a bowl game. This will be their bowl game.”
Cutting to the chase, the Horned Frogs extended their win streak in the series to three straight meetings with a lopsided 45-22 victory. Only it wasn’t so lopsided for the first half, as the Bears shot out to a 9-0 lead — later trailing just 21-19 at the half — before TCU dominated a second half that was perhaps better remembered for the melee that ensued near the Baylor bench.
But heck, Matt Rhule gave the Frogs a scare in what was dubbed his team’s “bowl game.”
Heading into Saturday along the banks of the Brazos, TCU and Baylor fans alike won’t be getting the matchup they once anticipated — not a the start of the year and certainly not three years ago, when Frogs and Bears seemed poised to be the new heavyweights of the Big 12. Here are both teams at or below .500, when the home team seemingly set to have the upper hand against an 18-year head coach and his squad that began the year ranked in the AP Top 25.
And Baylor’s “elite respect” for TCU, as Rhule put it on Monday? Who would have ever imagined a phrase like that tossed around in this historic rivalry as recently as 2015?
Things in this sport can change quickly, and the level of intensity that marked the “revivalry” just earlier this decade hasn’t surfaced much since the drenched Black Friday dual between the Frogs and Bears in November 2015. Gone are the days of top 25 showdowns. Knocking on the doorsteps is a battle of two teams merely searching for bowl eligibility.
And that might just be the saving grace.
Whoever falls short on Saturday won’t be guaranteed anything beyond Thanksgiving weekend, at least when it comes to the gridiron. A loss for TCU, and the Frogs are shutout for bowl eligibility. A loss for Baylor, and it’s a do or die situation against Texas Tech next week for a shot to go bowling, coming on a neutral field vs. a team that the Bears haven’t been able to solve either of the past two years.
Make no mistake. Both TCU and Baylor could be in for a 13th game this season if the Frogs improve to 2-1 all-time at McLane Stadium on Saturday. Only the Bears will have that luxury if TCU’s offensive malaise proves to be the pitfall for yet another week.
Maybe the numbers don’t show it heading into a battle of two teams with a combined 9 wins, a stat that none of us expected to hold true entering the third weekend of November. But with bowl-eligibility still on the line, the stakes remain high for this one.
For these two Texas schools, this matchup could mean everything.
No, not in the same in way that “everything” meant 4-5 years ago. There may not be a Big 12 title to stay in the hunt for. There may not be any playoff chances on the line either. This is just another matchup between two average Texas college football teams, to be frank. But it doesn’t have to be that way when the goal for both sides is to give the seniors the best season possible.
Call a twist of fate or whatever you will: This could be TCU’s bowl game. And it’s up to Frogs to perhaps make it Baylor’s bowl game — in hindsight — as well. Like it or not, Saturday will likely have a better atmosphere than any potential lower-tier bowl game TCU could wind up in if they do get to six wins. It’s no different for the Bears, staring down a best-case scenario 7-5 mark to the regular season. Even the opponent either team could draw won’t match the history that comes with a rivalry that has been played more than 110 times entering the latest encounter.
Neither TCU or Baylor has defeated a ranked opponent in 2018, and neither team will at the rate we’re on. Folks, this is the season for both teams. Defeat your Big 12 foe just 90 miles up or down the highway, and there’s at least some satisfaction to be had in a season that didn’t result in a conference title or New Year’s Six invitation.
Keeping the dream of a postseason appearance afloat? That will create some smiles for those in purple and white. A non-losing record just a year removed from complete misery? That will create some smiles for those in green and gold. A tightly contested affair, God willing? That will be a refreshing 60 minutes for everybody in two fan bases that haven’t had as much to cheer about this season compared to the likes of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas.
The rivalry remains intact. The sense of pride that comes with a win in this one remains intact. And so does the anticipation, even if it’s void on a national scale.
For the Frogs and Bears, Saturday — as it always should through the good and bad — means just about everything.
It’s just up to the fans to view it that way.