After handling Baylor for another year, TCU’s football program finds itself with one final game on the regular season schedule against top-15 Oklahoma.
The two programs will vie for two completely different things on Friday: The Sooners are hoping to stay alive for a berth in the Big 12 championship game, the Horned Frogs need one win to secure bowl eligibility.
For TCU the question the program must ponder is whether a win over Oklahoma is enough to salvage the season. The answer is complicated.
A win over Oklahoma is always significant, just look at last year when the blowout of the Sooners was the first sign that the Horned Frogs had what it took to compete for a Big 12 title.
With it being the final matchup between the two programs as the Sooners depart for the SEC, there’s also the added bonus of booting a longtime conference power out of the league with a loss that also eliminates them from the conference title game.
But in talking to TCU players after the 42-17 win over Baylor, their desire to win next week has very little to do with the opponent they face and more to do with the opportunity to stay together a few more weeks.
“I wanna play in a bowl game just to play three more weeks with these guys,” Josh Hoover said. “We’re never going to be around these guys again, so that’s what’s motivating me. To spend more time with a Josh Newton, Jared Wiley and these guys that I love so much.”
That’s what a bowl game represents for TCU now more than anything. Reaching postseason play won’t be enough to erase the stinging defeats to Colorado and Texas or the blowout to Kansas State, but what it can do is provide the program some type of momentum in what’s going to be a pivotal off-season for the Horned Frogs.
The Horned Frogs don’t just want to reach a bowl game, they need to.
“We’ve got our eyes on one thing and that’s beating OU,” Hoover said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get that done. It feels like a playoff game, a high school playoff game where it’s win or go home.”
TCU can go home or it can go to a bowl game. And even if it’s one of the less glamorous bowl games, like the Independence or First Responder bowls, it can still be valuable for the program in more ways than one.
“Nobody in this locker room is ready for the season to be over with,” tight end Jared Wiley said. “Nobody wants it to end on Friday and having this momentum to fight for bowl eligibility is a big deal for us.”
It’s a big deal for older and younger Horned Frogs alike. For veterans like Wiley it’ll be a chance to finish their careers with a win and to go out on a top in a sense.
For younger players like Hoover, it’s an opportunity to have three more weeks of practice to continue to grow and develop.
If you talk to any coach around the industry they’ll tell you how valuable those 15 practices can be to the growth of younger players, especially considering how injuries and opt outs could force some of those younger players into action in the bowl game.
But more than anything TCU reaching a bowl game would truly tell us whether or not the program is beginning to turn the corner back to contention.
The last six quarters against Texas and Baylor has seen TCU outscore their opponents 62-17. Was that just a solid stretch of play against the two of the bigger rivals on the schedule or was it indicative of something more?
“Everybody’s been disappointed with the year, but I’ve been really encouraged by the last six quarters of football that I’ve seen from this team,” Dykes said. “You know they’re going to play hard no matter what, that’s one thing I love about this team.”
Considering how well TCU has played the last six quarters and the fact that Oklahoma could be without star quarterback Dillon Gabriel on Friday, there’s now a clear path of victory for the Horned Frogs to follow against the Sooners.
So, will that victory be enough to right all the wrongs from this season? No, but it can be a catalyst for a bounce back 2024 season and for TCU, that has to be enough.