TCU’s gauntlet schedule might be the biggest hardship Horned Frogs face

While the TCU Horned Frogs look like the early favorites to win the Big 12, it will not be easy.

The TCU Horned Frogs have played a tough first six games this season, but things are not going to get easier for the new Big 12 frontrunners the rest of the way.

Needing overtime to clip former conference frontrunner Oklahoma State at home in Fort Worth, Sonny Dykes’ Horned Frogs improved to 6-0 on the season and 3-0 in conference play. In only his first year on the job, the Frogs are the No. 8 team in the nation and are very much alive for serious College Football Playoff considerations. However, the Frogs will probably need to win out to get in.

Unfortunately, they have a brutal second half of a schedule. Can the Frogs run the Big 12 gauntlet?

TCU must run its Big 12 gauntlet schedule to make College Football Playoff

Here is what remains on the Horned Frogs’ schedule the rest of the way, including the Big 12 title.

  • Week 8: vs. Kansas State Wildcats (Oct. 22)
  • Week 9: at West Virginia Mountaineers (Oct. 29)
  • Week 10: vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (Nov. 5)
  • Week 11: at Texas Longhorns (Nov. 12)
  • Week 12: at Baylor Bears (Nov. 19)
  • Week 13: at Iowa State Cyclones (Nov. 26)
  • Big 12 Championship: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX (Dec. 3)

In their remaining six games, TCU is probably playing two more ranked opponents. They are for sure getting one when No. 17 Kansas State comes to town for a night game in Week 8. Like TCU, Chris Klieman’s Wildcats team have not lost a conference game this season. Their only defeat came at home in a low-scoring affair vs. Tulane. The Greenies finally cracked the top 25 this week.

Even if the West Virginia date is on the road, that is a winnable game for the Horned Frogs, given the state of Neal Brown’s reeling Mountaineers program. While TCU is better at this point over Texas Tech, that feels like a total trap game for the Frogs with the Texas date in Austin looming large after that. Following Texas, TCU has to play Baylor in Waco before finishing with Iowa State.

At best, TCU runs the gauntlet to nearby Arlington undefeated with a playoff berth on the line in the Big 12 title bout. At worst, they go 3-3 in the second half of the season to finish 9-3 and go to something like the Alamo Bowl. While it feels closer to the former than the latter, the problem for TCU is the Horned Frogs are not going to get the benefit of the doubt unless they run the gauntlet.

This is because of brand recognition, recruiting depth and the perception of the conferences. All things equal, a one-loss Big Ten champion and a one-loss SEC champion get in easily over a one-loss TCU. Undefeated Power Five teams get in, no questions asked, regardless of their conference affiliation. But what if a one-loss TCU has to compete with a one-loss Clemson or a one-loss USC?

See, therein lies the issue at hand. Clemson has been a perennial power in the ACC throughout the playoff era. With the Tigers playing a tough ACC Atlantic division, they would get the benefit of the doubt over a TCU team that suffered one loss in its nine-game, round-robin Big 12 schedule. And we all know how badly the Selection Committee wants to shoe-horn USC into the four-team field.

The good news for TCU is if the Horned Frogs come out of the Big 12 title bout at a perfect 13-0, they will have beaten at least six teams who were ranked at the time of their meeting (Oklahoma, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas, Big 12 runner-up). It may not be exactly what the Selection Committee was hoping for, but the Frogs would surely be a top-four team in this case.

Either TCU leap frogs past everyone and into the playoff mix, or they get frogstomped tomorrow.

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