Associated Press Sports Writer
TCU is going into its 10th season in the Big 12, a conference headed toward a more seismic shift than the one that made the Horned Frogs a Power Five team.
The Frogs have proven themselves quite worthy of that status.
Of the 12 teams that have changed or moved into power leagues in the past decade, only Texas A&M in the SEC and Pittsburgh in the ACC have better conference records since switching.
In the Big 12, only second-ranked Oklahoma has more league wins than TCU since 2014, the season the Frogs shared the conference title with Baylor before the Sooners won the last six.
In the pandemic-altered 2020 season, the Horned Frogs won five of their final six games before not being able to play in their bowl game because of COVID-19 issues.
“Mentally, to be honest with you, even for me, it was really tough,” coach Gary Patterson said about that uneven season, which was his 20th as TCU’s head coach after three years as defensive coordinator.
TCU and West Virginia started play in a 10-team Big 12 in 2012, following the departures of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. The SEC is where Oklahoma and Texas, the only Big 12 teams to win national championships, are headed no later than 2025.
“Maybe I’m just a kind of a little bit of an old school when it comes to it. Just regional rivalries, that’s what I worry about. I worry about the state of Texas more than I worry about anything else, and Fort Worth,” Patterson said. “Because that’s what we’ve tried to do, why I stayed here. It’s not about just TCU, TCU football. It’s about Fort Worth.”
Left out of the initial 12-team Big 12 that started play in 1996 after the old Southwest Conference was dissolved, TCU then won or shared titles in the Western Athletic Conference, Conference USA and the Mountain West over a 16-season span.
The Big 12 is apparently moving swiftly to plug the holes looming with the upcoming departure of Oklahoma and Texas for the Southeastern Conference.
Along with UCF and Cincinnati, the Big 12 identified BYU and Houston as its primary expansion targets and then moved quickly to make it happen.
Trustees at UCF and Cincinnati have been asked by Big 12 to join the conference.
The moves come several weeks after the SEC invited Texas and Oklahoma to join its league in time for the 2025-26 season, though there remains the possibility that could happen sooner. For now though, the Big 12 appears focused on the additions and not how to facilitate the exits of the Longhorns and Sooners.
UCF, Houston and Cincinnati are in the American Athletic Conference, which requires members to give 27 months’ notice if they plan to leave the league. BYU is an independent in football and part of the West Coast Conference for basketball and Olympic sports.
The Longhorns and Sooners have said they will honor their current contracts with the Big 12 and do not plan to join the SEC until 2025, when the conference’s current television rights contracts with ESPN and Fox run out.
If that holds true, the Big 12 could have up to 14 members for at least a season or two.
Since the Big 12 started play as a 12-team league in 1996, Texas and Oklahoma are the only teams to win national football championships. Texas is the nation’s richest athletic program while Oklahoma is the six-time defending conference champion and still the only Big 12 team to make the four-team College Football Playoff. The Sooners lost semifinal games in each of their four CFP appearances.
The Big 12 has been a 10-team league since the last significant round of conference realignment a decade ago that started with original members Nebraska (to the Big Ten) and Colorado (to the Pac-12) leaving before Texas A&M and Missouri went to the SEC. The Big 12 brought in TCU and West Virginia, which are both now in their 10th league season.
As for the expected additions, Cincinnati is currently ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll, while Central Florida has more than 70,000 students and was the self-proclaimed national champion after going 13-0 in 2017. BYU has a nationwide fan base while Houston is in the nation’s fourth-largest city and will keep four Texas teams in the league when the Longhorns depart.
Other TCU Notes
Max Duggan has accounted for nearly 5,000 total yards of offense and 41 touchdowns in 22 games for TCU. Yet, the junior quarterback is just now coming off what could be considered a somewhat normal offseason for the starter.
“People don’t really understand what Max went through a year ago,” Patterson said. “So for him to grow up where he’s at, an unbelievable leader.”
After starting the final 10 games as a true freshman in 2019, there were only a few practices last spring before COVID-19 shut those down. Duggan was then sidelined most of preseason camp last fall after a previously undetected heart issue was revealed during more extensive testing amid the pandemic. He ended up not missing a game due to the delayed start of the season.
“Once you have spring ball, you have summer workouts, you just feel more confident going into the season,” Duggan said. “You’ve been with your guys a little bit more, get a little bit more comfortable with everything. So it’s been awesome. It’s been very productive.”
While there are eight returning starters on defense, the Frogs have to replace two All-Big 12 picks: linebacker Garret Wallow and safety Trevon Moehrig. Those are two key positions in Patterson’s primary 4-2-5 scheme.
Wallow was the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons and was the Big 12 leader in 2019. His likely replacement is Jamoi Hodge, a 6-foot-2, 224-pound former transfer from Independence Community College who played in only two games last season before getting hurt.
“You won’t find a better-looking linebacker in college football as far as just the way, body type and everything he does. He’s just got to stay healthy,” Patterson said.
TCU does still have an All-Big 12 defensive back, with the return of junior cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, the nephew of NFL Hall of Fame running back and former Frogs standout LaDainian Tomlinson.
TCU opened the season with four consecutive home games: non-conference matchups against FCS team Duquesne in the Sept. 4 opener, California from the Pac-12 and local rival SMU before its Big 12 opener Oct. 2 against No. 21 Texas. The Horned Frogs play five of their nine conference games on the road. That includes trips to No. 2 Oklahoma and then No. 7 Iowa State the day after Thanksgiving to end the regular season.
Frog Fever Staff contributed to this report.