Only two times in the 18 full seasons featuring Gary Patterson as the head coach of TCU Football have the Horned Frogs not made a bowl game. Those two seasons, of course, coincide with the only two losing seasons of Patterson’s career - in 2004 and 2013. Each of those poor campaigns were followed by double-digit win seasons; in 2005 the Frogs went 11-1, winning the Mountain West in their first season as a conference member by going 8-0 in league play. In 2014, well, we all remember that magical season, one just ticks on a clock away from perfection and a chase for a National Title.
After suffering through 2018, a year where TCU went 6-6 in the regular season, sneaking a winning year in thanks to the most weirdly magical bowl game in history, most expected the Frogs to bounce back once again. Injuries wracked the program a season ago, but with Ross Blacklock set to return from his, a super star in Jalen Reagor, and experience across the offensive line, running backs, and the secondary, concerns about quarterback and linebacker play - as well as youth in the two deep - didn’t appear primed to derail a promising season.
And yet... here we are.
TCU had to win in Manhattan Saturday — they HAD to. And while it was a game as ugly as the loss to Iowa State two weeks prior, it feels far, far worse. Kansas State is not a very good football team; even giving them a home bump, the Frogs were favored by nearly every metric out there. They are one of the worst offenses in the Big 12 and one of the worst rush defenses - things that should have played right into TCU’s hands. But, even with an extra week to prepare, they were able to move the ball well against a TCU defense that feels more Jekyll and Hyde than hide your quarterbacks. Biting on play-action fakes, blitzing into a QB draw, getting burned for big pass plays to a player that was doubtful to even see the field... it seemed K State got a big play every time they needed one. While they kept the Cats below their season averages in most categories (266 total yards, 14 first downs, 4-13 on third downs), they struggled to pressure the QB - two sacks, but none from the defensive ends, again - and did not force a turnover for a third consecutive game.
On offense, the leading rusher was Max Duggan, despite the Cats struggles defending that aspect of opposing offenses — his 13 carries were tied with Darius Anderson for most of the day and one more than Sewo Olonilua - despite the two senior running backs averaging well over four yards per carry. The thought of having just 25 designed carries for the two backs, while rushing your QB 13 times and passing 29 — in a one score game — seems like poor play-calling. But, what do I know. There was plenty more to nit-pick, as well; bringing in Alex Delton for one series immediately after Max Duggan led a touchdown drive specifically comes to mind, as does slowing down the tempo despite Duggan looking comfortable in it early — oh, and not working to get Jalen Reagor involved until late (and he immediately reminded people why he should get the ball more once they targeted him) — but, ultimately, this offense just isn’t very good. Maybe the talent isn’t being used correctly, it’s hard to argue they are, but maybe these young receivers have a to of growing up to do, too. And the offensive line, that looked so good and so experienced early, hasn’t exactly been blowing people off the line over the last handful of games.
Ultimately, though, TCU Football is out of excuses.
Maybe we overvalued the Frogs coming into 2019 — we should have known that a true freshman QB, combined with a bunch of first and second year wide receivers, protected by an offensive line that was only expected to be better because they were a year older might not be a recipe for a bunch of wins. Maybe teams have figured out the 4-2-5 or maybe replacing a first and second round draft pick at defensive end was too much to overcome.
Maybe it’s just not our year (again).
It’s really hard to imagine bowl eligibility for this team this year; other than hosting West Virginia on the final Friday of the regular season, do you see a game that the Frogs will be favored in? Baylor and Oklahoma are both undefeated and have impressive wins on their resume, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are both tough on their home fields and have shown signs of improving with regularity, Texas? Well, after almost losing to Kansas (they trailed with 1:11 remaining in the game), some sports books are actually favoring the Frogs by 2.5. But, that can’t be right, can it? And it will almost certainly have changed by kick-off.
All that being said, all frustration being taken into account, I think it’s important to stay behind this team. We, as fans, have every right to be dissatisfied by what’s happened this year - accepting mediocrity makes you Rutgers. But, just because the day has dawned darkly doesn’t mean the future can’t still be bright. I think that there is justification to being unhappy with the effort, the energy, and even the coaching — and I expect to see staff changes when 2020 comes around. But, no matter what, I am still going to show up to games, still wear my purple proudly, and still cheer loudly when something good happens.
I’ll just complain quietly when it doesn’t.
That’s where we are right now, but, hey — we get a chance to change it all come Saturday against Texas. A win would go an awfully long way toward getting folks back on board.