JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – For years, TCU fought to punch its way in to the old Bowl Championship Series, having to win on the field and in the public debate over whether the Horned Frogs were worthy of such lofty status.
Joining the Big 12 was supposed to solve all that.
But here they are again, chasing a league title but still sitting just outside of a potential berth in the new College Football Playoff heading in to a Thanksgiving night game at Texas.
Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson won’t engage in the debate yet.
“We don’t have anything to talk about unless we can win the next two ball games,” Patterson said. “Then you can decide if you want to go sit down and have communication. Up to this point in time, it’s useless.”
All winning does is guarantee more arguing. But there won’t be any debate if No. 5 TCU (9-1, 6-1, No. 5 CFP) should lose Thursday night: They’ll be out of the playoff picture.
“If you worry about that, eventually you won’t be in it anyway because you’ll mess up and lose,” TCU safety Sam Carter said.
TCU didn’t impress anybody by struggling against a bad Kansas team two weeks ago. But that game came after a big win over then-No. 7 Kansas State and the Horned Frogs were likely ripe for a letdown.
Playing a traditional rival like Texas with so much on the line is an entirely different matter. And Texas’ three-game winning streak likely got their attention as well.
That late surge has Texas (6-5, 5-3) bowl-eligible under first-year coach Charlie Strong. A year ago, Texas was in the Big 12 title chase until the final game. Now the Longhorns still need a win to guarantee a winning season.
“I think it would really set the foundation of this program,” under Strong, senior wide receiver John Harris said. “We’ve got this team believing in themselves again.”
Here’s a few things to watch when Texas and TCU play Thursday night:
PRESSURE’S ON: All the pressure is on TCU. The Horned Frogs are in the hunt for league and national championships while Texas settled into a rebuilding year. TCU proved it can fight back from early deficits and West Virginia and Kansas, but if Texas grabs early momentum, the Longhorns may never let up.
BIG MALCOM: Running back Malcolm Brown leads Texas in rushing, but it’s junior defensive tackle “Big Malcom” Brown who is arguably the Longhorns’ best player. Brown has been a dominant force on the interior of the line with 6 ½ sacks and 14 tackles for losses. He’s also a finalist for the Nagurski Award given to college football’s best defensive player. If he can collapse the pocket around TCU’s Trevone Boykin, he can disrupt the Horned Frogs’ entire offense.
BIG PLAY HARRIS: Harris was an after-thought under former coach Mack Brown. Under Strong, he’s been Texas go-to playmaker. Harris had a total of nine catches for 190 yards his first three seasons under Brown. This year, he’s been one of the best targets in the Big 12 with 976 yards and seven touchdowns.
THIRD QUARTER: Texas has been terrible in the third quarter, scoring a total of 23 points in the third all season. It could once again be the time TCU either stretches a lead or plays catch-up.
QUARTERBACKS: Whether passing or running, Boykin makes everything happen for TCU and averages over 300 yards passing and 50 yards rushing, but Texas may have the one defense that can bottle him up. The Longhorns’ Tyrone Swoopes has been erratic, good one week, bad the next. A win over a No. 5 opponent on Thanksgiving night could answer a lot of questions about his future as the starter