It’s taken almost a decade for Mark Wright to get past 2014. Among the most ardent of TCU fans, he and many other Horned Frogs faithful remember waiting for the selection of the first College Football Playoff field.
The Horned Frogs were a shoo-in, right? They’d ended the regular season 11-1, were ranked third in the nation and spanked Iowa State 55-3 in the final regular season game.
None of that mattered, however, as the CFP Selection Committee dropped TCU to sixth and moved Ohio State into the top four. Sure, the Buckeyes proved their worthiness by winning the national championship but Horned Frogs fans never forgot being snubbed, even though TCU went on to drub Ole Miss 42-3 in the Peach Bowl.
Now, the TCU alum and many others can finally put that bitterness in the rearview mirror as the Horned Frogs are among the four teams chosen to compete for the 2022 national championship. TCU (12-1) is the No. 3 seed and will meet the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (13-0) in a semifinal matchup at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona, at 3 p.m. Central time on New Year’s Eve. The winner will take on the survivor of the other New Year’s Eve semifinal: No. 1 (and defending national champion) Georgia (13-0) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (11-1). That game will be played in Atlanta at 7 p.m. Central time.
The winners of the two New Year’s Eve games will face off for the national championship Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Kickoff for that one is 6:30 p.m. Central time.
“The Rose Bowl used to be my No. 1 sports memory, but the Frogs reaching the playoff shoots straight up to the top of the list,” said Wright, referencing the Horned Frogs’ 21-19 victory against Wisconsin in 2011 to complete a 13-0 season, another time TCU was snubbed when the old BCS selection process put Auburn and Oregon in the national title game (Auburn won).
“I choked up when they announced the Frogs were in. I’ve been a die hard fan since I was a kid in the 1980s,” he continued. “And we were always little old TCU. When we didn’t make it in 2014, I thought we were destined to remain that way. But you can’t call them little old TCU now.
“And the fact that there were zero expectations made this ride that much more fun.”
The Horned Frogs became only the second team to reach the CFP after beginning the season unranked. Ironically, their semifinal opponent Michigan was the first, achieving that distinction just last year.
Their CFP showdown will be the first meeting between the two teams. Michigan’s last national championship was in 1997, while TCU’s only title came in 1938.
TCU is the first team from Texas to advance to the CFP. Baylor has come close, including also being overlooked in 2014 despite handing the Frogs their only loss that season, 61-58, in Waco.
While it remains to be seen what if anything that Lone Star State slice of history might mean in terms of marketing and recruiting, it certainly can’t hurt. After all, they will be playing the most spotlighted game in program history – two games if they defeat Michigan and advance to the final – with the entire nation watching, including high school football players still wondering where they want to go to college.
TCU’s breakthrough also comes amid Fort Worth’s growing prominence as a premier sports city. Dickies Arena hosted part of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament field that included national champion Kansas and runner-up North Carolina and also was the venue for the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship, the first Women’s Tennis Association Finals in the U.S. since 2005 (and the first ever in Texas) and the Professional Bull Riders world championship.
Praise for the Frogs’ accomplishment started at the top of the TCU hierarchy.
“Texas Christian University is thrilled to be making its first appearance in the College Football Playoffs,” said Chancellor Victor J. Boschini Jr. “TCU’s incredible football team earned their way to this moment through perseverance, talent and the leadership demonstrated by hundreds of student-athletes and football staff, coaches and administrators.
“I’m proud of this team for its accomplishments on the field, and the way they represent all Horned Frogs with their integrity and dedication. It’s truly a proud moment for our entire community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, TCU families and worldwide fan base. Please join us in cheering on these hardworking Frogs in the Fiesta Bowl!”
Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens said the Horned Frogs showed a lot of fortitude in coming from behind to win games, even coming from 11 points down in the fourth quarter of the Big 12 title game to force overtime before suffering their only loss of the season.
“They showed a lot of guts with all the games they played, enabling them to come from behind,” Bivens said. “The quarterback (Max Duggan) is a monster quarterback and deserves this level of respect. He played his heart out. I was excited to see the TCU legends like L.T (LaDainian Tomlinson) and Andy Dalton hype up the crowd with the ‘Rif Ram’ chant before kickoff.
“Every game leading us to this point has had all my friends at the ends of their seats,” she said. “All the critics – including unnamed former players – who said TCU was not ready to step into the playoffs, I’ll cook and dish up a big purple berry pie.”
Like his team, quarterback Duggan has risen from the ashes. He lost the starting job to Chandler Morris before the season but replaced Morris when the starter was injured in the season opener against Colorado and now Duggan is among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player. The Heisman will be presented Saturday in New York.
TCU graduate Geoffrey Mitchell is a pastor at Lindenwood Christian Church Memphis and hosts the FrogCast, the first-ever TCU football podcast. He made the trip back to Fort Worth for the Big 12 championship game against Kansas State, a 31-28 loss that left Horned Frogs fans squirming in their seats until the official playoff announcement the next day.
“TCU crashing the party and making the playoff is a dream so many fans thought would never come true,” Mitchell said. “To see TCU with one loss ranked ahead of a one-loss Ohio State team is almost unfathomable. What this victory means for fans almost can’t be measured because we felt this day would never come, regardless of our record.
“For a fan like myself, who came to TCU on the cusp of the death of the Southwest Conference, our journey has come full circle. TCU is the best program in the state.”
There was little doubt the Horned Frogs would be selected had they gone 13-0, but falling to Kansas State brought back fears of a 2014 repeat. Also, there were memories of Wisconsin ending the 2017 regular season 12-0 but falling 27-21 to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game and being left out of the CFP field in favor of eventual champion Alabama.
“I was at the game against K-State and as bummed as I was leaving Jerry World (AT&T Stadium), I told my brother and dad that I thought we would be in,” Wright said. “But I couldn’t sleep the night before as I was worried we might get passed over again.”
Not this time, though. Not only did the committee select the Horned Frogs, they left them as the No. 3 seed, the same spot they held before losing to Kansas State – a nod to the amount of respect the team earned this season under first-year head coach Sonny Dykes.
“I did not go to TCU. But my godson and I had season tickets over 14 years. They are a terrific team that can compete with anyone,” said longtime fan Jimmie Davis.
Gloria Gilbert Barron, Miss Texas 1982 and a TCU graduate, remembers an earlier time when the Horned Frogs enjoyed a short resurgence under coach Jim Wacker in the early 1980s. She even made a record with the coach entitled I Was Purple When Purple Wasn’t Cool, a takeoff on the 1981 hit single I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool by Barbara Mandrell and George Jones.
None of that compares to the elation that she and her fellow lifelong TCU fans are feeling today, however.
“TCU has been demonstrating outstanding levels of performance in players, coaches, band, cheer squads, student body and fans,” she said. “This is an incredible year and an incredible team. Go Frogs!”
Fort Worth’s District 3 Councilman Michael D. Crain, whose wife is a TCU graduate, has confidence the magical season has more to come.
“I couldn’t be prouder to represent TCU on the Fort Worth City Council. The 2022 Horned Frogs’ overall successful season proves that leadership, teamwork and the ability to rise above the negativity of skeptics will prevail time and time again,” Crain said. “I’m looking forward to the Fiesta Bowl and a win over the Wolverines.”