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TCU, Ohio State and the wonderful world of star ratings

This wouldn’t mark the first time in 2018 that star ratings have become a headline around the Horned Frogs.

Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma v TCU Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Less than a month now remains until TCU and Ohio State fans are treated to matchup they have been anxiously awaiting for several years — the Sept. 15 showdown between the Horned Frogs and Buckeyes at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Before we dive in too far on this one, let’s make things clear. No doubt about it — the showdown at Jerry World is going to be an uphill battle for the Horned Frogs. Even just some 15 miles east of Fort Worth, Ohio State fans will be descending upon North Texas in the masses, and there are valid concerns that a star-studded Buckeyes defensive line will be a complete mismatch for a TCU offensive line that graduated more players than one would care to count after the 2017 season. If the Horned Frogs drop this one — whether it be by one point or double-digits — it shouldn’t exactly be a shocker to those who bleed purple.

But if you’re picking the Buckeyes to come out on top — regardless of which team you may be cheering for — it’s probably good to have a sound argument behind that prediction.

A size mismatch? 100 percent. A gap in experienced players? Sure. The pressure getting to the Horned Frogs as they attempt to knock off the program that once called them the “little sisters of the poor”? Also valid.

A gap in recruiting rankings? Let’s tap the brakes for a second.

We won’t deny that Ohio State does consistently finish in elite territory when it comes to recruiting. The Buckeyes have fielded a top 10 recruiting class every year dating back to 2011, including a 2018 recruiting class that finished No. 2 behind Georgia.

It’s a different story for the Horned Frogs, who have made leaps and bounds in the national recruiting scene in recent years, but are often seen in the ballpark of 20-30 rather than the top 10. For some Ohio State fans, that gap is enough that there’s apparently no point of even playing the contest other than to say “we told you so.”

There’s a truth to be told that star ratings aren’t completely irrelevant — look at the classes of the teams who have won the national championship over the past five years for a healthy sample size.

But when it comes to a single game, is absence of five star recruits in Fort Worth cause to completely write off the Horned Frogs before the captains even meet at midfield for the coin toss?

In what is perhaps one of the more memorable quotes to come out of the event, TCU head coach Gary Patterson had this to say about star ratings when asked about the matter at Big 12 Media Days in July:

“Number one, that rating is your rating. That’s not my rating. If I’m bringing them in I think they’re a pretty good player so they may be a four star or five star, obviously we’re getting more of those guys. I have always believed that the it’s not where you start, but where you finish. So you recruit whoever you want to recruit, you recruit who fits your program.”

Case in point — TCU has won at least 11 games three of the past four seasons, and came knocking on the door of the the College Football Playoff in 2014 just a year removed from a 4-8 campaign. And shall we recall that the Horned Frogs opened the 2015 season just one spot behind the defending national champion Buckeyes at No. 2 in the AP poll?

The Horned Frogs may not have multiple playoff appearances, four consecutive New Year’s Six appearances and a national title on their resume — though there’s a continual debate over whether or not TCU would have won it all in 2014 had they been afforded their chance. Tip of the cap to the Buckeyes, they proved themselves when given the fourth and final spot in the playoff that season. There’s no arguing that, even if it was a bitter pill for Horned Frog fans to swallow.

But the bottom line — the recruiting gap hasn’t prevented TCU from frequently being right there in the national conversation with some of college football’s finest blue bloods. Even with an offensive line that may not regularly be the most coveted on paper, TCU has finished in the top 10 three times since joining the ranks of the Power 5 in 2012.

That said, let’s have some real fun now.

As we further examine Patterson’s remarks, we’re going to take things beyond of the offensive line. Below is a list of players who have seen playing time at TCU in the Big 12 era — some active and some since graduated — who have excelled for all to see. For your convenience, we’ve included some stats and/or accolades alongside their names.

CB Jason Verrett (2011-2013)

  • First team All-Big 12 (2012-13)
  • First team All-American (2013)
  • No. 25 overall pick in 2014 NFL Draft (Los Angeles Chargers)

QB Trevone Boykin (2012-2015)

  • All-time leading passer in TCU history (10,728 yards)
  • All-time TCU leader in all-purpose yards (12,777 yards)
  • 2014 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year
  • 2014 Kellen Moore Award winner
  • 2014 Campbell Award winner
  • Fourth place in Heisman Trophy voting (2014)
  • Second team All-American (2015)

WR Josh Doctson (2013-2015)

  • All-time leading receiver in TCU history (2,785 yards)
  • Single-game TCU record holder for receiving yards (267)
  • Consensus All-American (2015)
  • No. 22 overall pick in 2016 NFL Draft (Washington Redskins)

LB Ty Summers (2015-present)

  • Three straight seasons of at least 60 total tackles (82 freshman year)
  • Three time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week
  • 2017 Honorable Mention All-Big 12

DE Mat Boesen (2016-2017)

  • TCU/Big 12 single-game record holder for sacks (5.5 vs. Baylor, 2017)
  • Sports Illustrated first team All-American (2017)
  • First team All-Big 12 (2017)

DE Ben Banogu (2017-present)

  • 49 total tackles, 8.5 sacks (2017)
  • First team All-Big 12 (2017)
  • Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year (2017)
  • Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (2018)

These are all guys that have been difference makers at TCU and within the Big 12 — with Summers and Banogu poised to do big things once again as they enter their senior seasons. So here are some more fun facts.

None of these six players had higher than a 3-star rating as recruits out of high school. Summers and Banogu only had two stars in the 247Sports composite ratings. Boesen was once a high school wrestler and came to TCU as JUCO transfer. Likewise, Doctson and Banogu also began their collegiate careers outside of Fort Worth (Wyoming and Louisiana Monroe, respectively) before catching Patterson’s eye.

And yet here they are — many having the impact that you’d expect from a 4-star or 5-star prospect. No, they aren’t offensive linemen, but they prove Patterson’s point — that the recruiting rankings don’t matter if a player can fit the system well. Contrast that with the scene several hours south down Interstate 35 in Austin, where Texas fans are scratching their heads at a streak of mediocrity despite hauling in a top 10 recruiting class four times dating back to Winter 2014 — well ahead of the Horned Frogs.

It’s a different case at Ohio State, where recruiting flops have been a rarity, but that’s not to say they’ve never occurred. Perhaps the most noteworthy case in recent memory was that of linebacker Mike Mitchell, who committed to Ohio State as 5-star prospect and the No. 1 overall prospect from the state of Texas in 2013. The prized recruit ultimately never saw any playing time in a Buckeyes uniform, though his transfer to Texas Tech in 2014 was hardly under normal circumstances as he made his way back to the Lone Star State to be closer with his ailing father. No doubt, the lack actual failures on the field is impressive.

But with all of the data and player stories in mind, there’s a over-arching lesson to be had as TCU and Ohio State prepare for battle.

There is no concrete formula to recruiting. 2-star or 5-star, any player can achieve greatness if they land in the right system.

No, it doesn’t hurt to have four and five-star recruits from top to bottom on your roster, but it’s not the lone path to success. TCU and Ohio State have both proved that on opposite ends. There’s a reason why the Horned Frogs upended Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl as a Mountain West School back in 2011. There’s a reason why Ohio State has only lost eight games since 2012.

So give credit to Gary Patterson for developing no-names into superstars. And for all the off-field drama at the moment, give credit to Meyer for reaping the rewards of the talent he has won over through the years. Neither are easy tasks to accomplish in the modern era of college football.

And that’s why none of us should take this marquee showdown, which will be here before we know it, for granted.