FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — TCU is in the same position it was at this point last season before making it to the national championship game. The Horned Frogs are going into their Big 12 opener unranked, still trying to find their way and with nobody talking about them being a playoff contender.
What is different this time is TCU (1-1) can’t have another undefeated regular season like the one that carried the Frogs all the way into the four-team College Football Playoff last year in their debut with coach Sonny Dykes, even after losing the Big 12 championship game.
“Honestly, our performance thus far this season has probably mirrored our performance a little bit last season,” Dykes said. “We had a better Colorado team we played Week 1. If we had played a really good Colorado team last year, I don’t know how we would have fared in that game.”
Dykes has repeatedly said TCU was “probably a slightly below average football team” the first three or four games last season. But that squad just kept winning.
The Frogs were in the preseason AP Top 25 this year for the first time since 2018, though the national runner-up was only 17th, before losing 45-42 in their opener at home to a much different Colorado team with new coach Deion Sanders. That got the Buffaloes, a one-win team last season, into the poll, and they backed that up with a win at home over Nebraska last week to move up to 18th in the latest rankings.
TCU did beat an FCS team in Week 2 like last year, and now plays the conference's lone opener Saturday night at Big 12 newcomer Houston (1-1). The former Southwest Conference rivals will meet for the first time since the 2007 Texas Bowl, and only fifth time since the SWC's final season in 1995.
“I think this game is going to help us figure out who we are,” junior left tackle Andrew Coker said.
The Frogs' first four conference games last season were against Top 25 teams, and they twice overcame double-digit deficits in the second half. Max Duggan, the quarterback who had lost his starting job in camp, had taken over when Chandler Morris got hurt in the second half of the season-opening 38-13 win at Colorado and became the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
“We kept working and we had tremendous buy-in and leadership and, you know, we had some guys that stepped up. ... We were finding our way along last year,” Dykes said. “And I think we're doing some of that this year with a lot of new players. We think we've got some players that can be very productive and good. But there are a lot of new faces, and so we’re still trying to kind of get where we want right now."
Morris is the starting QB again, and has completed 50 of 72 passes (69%) for 542 yards with four touchdowns. The former Oklahoma transfer's two interceptions in the loss to Colorado were both near or at the goal line. But he completed 26 of 30 passes and had an impressive 32-yard TD run in the 41-6 win over Nicholls State.
The Horned Frogs also went into this season without their top two running backs, top three receivers and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley from the team that ended with a 65-7 loss as Georgia won its second national championship in a row.
Including its overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game last December, before beating Michigan in the CFP semifinal game at the Fiesta Bowl, TCU had lost three of four games until the win over Nicholls.
“I feel like that chip on our shoulder ... it really never went away,” safety-turned-linebacker Namdi Obiazor said. “How the last season ended, like kind of all summer, we were thinking about it.”
Coker, the 315-pound lineman, said this year's team can't get caught up in talking about last year since that was a different group with different leaders. But there is one quality Coker is glad to see has carried over from last season.
“Every week is attention to detail. I think one thing that we did and that we do well, is we try to take everything one week at a time,” Coker said. “Don’t be caught looking ahead, don’t circle games on the schedule. Just take everything one week at a time. ... We should keep going forward doing that.”
Next stop, Houston.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll