Monday, November 23, 2009

Not just another day in Frog heaven

When TCU takes the field Saturday, it will be well favored to beat New Mexico; to finish the regular season 12-0, giving this year's seniors the most wins of any class of Horned Frogs in history; to clinch a berth to its biggest bowl game since the '50s; and to take an honored place among the great teams of the 1930s that achieved this singular distinction: unbeaten in the regular season. All of that is grand, and worthy of much fanfare; but the Wimple offers another perspective on TCU's remarkable 2009 campaign.

When the Southwest Conference broke up in 1994, leaving TCU and three other weaklings to rot, its abandonment of the Horned Frogs was particularly poignant. Oldtimers well remembered when TCU was the giant among Texas schools during the Depression; not-so-old timers could recall TCU's decade-long duel in the '50s with UT for conference supremacy. But for a generation after TCU surrendered that war, letting two-squad play, limitless scholarships for state schools under the GI Bill, and rampant cheating in paying for recruits, all pass it by, the Horned Frogs were a bland and brand-less squad, losers on the gridiron. Its boosters succumbed to the "way it was" in the early '80s, paying their way to the conference championship in '84, before the hammer fell.

Several years ago, the Wimple recounted all of this in greater detail; this tale of decline reaches bottom with the "walking death penalty" given TCU in '85, and its conference's demise a decade later. Then came the revival-- labeled an "experiment" in that larger telling. Could a rule-abiding, privately-funded non-cartel football team thrive in Division 1-A ? Early returns were hopeful, but the program seemed unable to put the cap on its upswings. Dizzying flirtations with BCS bids ended unfruitfully in 2000 and 2003 with late-season road losses scaring off the cartel suitor-agents. An early-season loss in '05 kept them away until it was too late; another late-season road loss was excuse enough in '08, despite laxer eligibility rules that kept TCU technically (but not practically) in play through selection Sunday. The Wimple's history concluded:

The experiment seemed to have reached its logical limits: a team outside the BCS cartel and resources, committed to recruiting and graduating honest student athletes, could win most games, but not regularly, and not under pressure.
Indeed, TCU appeared good enough to flirt with the big-money bowls, high poll ranking, and NFL-bound talent. But fate never seemed to bless the Frogs' attempts to assemble all of the ingredients. But a TCU victory Saturday will render that sentence incomplete without the following caveat: until 2009. What the Frogs may accomplish in five days is no less than a reversal of almost 50 years' curse. TCU may rise above irrelevance on Saturday; above its nomad journey through the outcasts of Division 1-A; above a couple generations' acceptance as a has-been, a history lesson, a glint only in grandfathers' eyes. TCU again vies with Texas for supremacy in the Lone Star State, and in the nation.

What changed?

Dr. Saturday gives a hint:
"TCU ... is good at everything -- literally everything. The Frogs currently rank in the top 10 nationally in pretty much every conceivable facet of the game: Scoring Offense (No. 5), Total Offense (5), Scoring Defense (6), Total Defense (4), Rushing Offense (5), Pass Efficiency Offense (9), Rushing Defense (6), Passing Defense (3), Pass Efficiency Defense (5), First Downs Gained (7), First Downs Allowed (1), Third Down Defense, Kickoff Returns (1), Sacks Allowed (6), [and] Time of Possession (10)."
There's no doubt the '09 Frogs have added potent offense and special teams play to their portfolio, which has including nationally leading defense frequently since Gary Patterson's arrival in 1998. But the addition of (and better use of) top-talent on offense appears to have been the missing piece. With its new mojo holding the ball, TCU went to Clemson, Air Force, and BYU, and beat all three. In its last six games TCU has averaged over 523 yards per game, 300 of those on the ground. And all of this without a single 1,000-yard rusher or receiver!

Several changes among the coordinators may have prompted the outburst on the field. Rusty Burns has taught the receivers how to upgrade their blocking and route running. First-year playcallers Justin Fuente and Jarrett Anderson have opened the playbook a little. But the Frogs have amassed a frightful cast of weapons for these coaches to deploy in any formation. The talent upgrade that has been underway since about 2005 has begun to show up between the hashmarks. Every indication points to a further rise in the Frogs' on-field prowess.

Given a win Saturday, it will be time to re-cast the narrative of football in purple and white. Beating New Mexico will complete the Revival, and more than merely a new chapter in the history of TCU football: it will commence a new book entirely. That tome's title?



ray ray said...

Great Post.

So many good players on this team, so many different ways they can beat you.

T. Wimple said...

yeah-- this is the deepest team I've ever seen at TCU, and it's not even close.

Having a crowded backfield is a good, good thing.

RicketyFrog said...

Clarification. TCU did not win a share of the conference title in '84. They did in '94, but not '84.

T. Wimple said...

thanks for the clarification. I'll change that in the post.