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TCU becomes first Texas team to reach the College Football Playoff

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TCU's Horned Frogs football team had a turnaround season and is headed to the college football playoffs.

Texas Christian University’s football team has had something of a turnaround season this year.

After being shut out of the AP Top 25 rankings last season, TCU went on a tear in 2022, going undefeated until an overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship on Saturday. The Horned Frogs finished with a 12-1 record, powered by newly minted Heisman Trophy finalist Max Duggan and new head coach Sonny Dykes.

On Sunday, TCU reached another pinnacle when the program became the first from Texas to be selected for the College Football Playoff since that postseason format was introduced in 2014.

Steven Johnson, TCU beat writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, joined the Standard to talk about the Horned Frogs’ banner year. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: There was some speculation that TCU might get left out of the College Football Playoff after their loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game. What do you think was one of the biggest factors that led to the decision for their inclusion? I guess that record, 12-1, right?

Steven Johnson: Yeah. I mean, their resume was clearly stronger than Alabama’s. They had a common opponent in Texas. Texas was actually Alabama’s best win, and TCU beat them by a wider margin in more convincing fashion. The win over Kansas State actually got better with the loss of Kansas State finished inside the top 10. So they won more games than Alabama. They had a better win, one less loss. It’s Alabama, so I think that’s why everybody was stressing, but it honestly was probably an easy decision for the committee to include TCU in the Final Four.

I noticed that Nick Saban, who’s the coach of the of the Alabama Crimson Tide, sort of seemed to be lobbying for inclusion there. Does that happen where you have coaches basically influencing the committee in such a way that a team like Alabama could have slipped ahead of TCU? How real a possibility was that? 

To me, like I said, man, I think most of Fort Worth thought it was probably a bigger possibility than it was, because you go back to 2014 and what happened. But I think any time it’s Alabama and, you know, their pedigree, their roster, the talent they have on the roster, like you could always make a compelling case that they’re one of the four best teams in college football. Except this year they clearly weren’t. That showed on the field.

Yes, they had a couple of close losses, but they also had a couple of close wins – at Texas, against Ole Miss, at Texas A&M. So look: it’s Alabama, it’s Nick Saban. But to me, the case was never really compelling for them to get in, especially over a 12-win TCU team.

Last year TCU was out of the rankings completely when the AP Top 25 poll was released. Now they’re in the Final Four. What accounts for this turnaround? I mean, particularly the adjustments brought with the new head coach, Sonny Dykes?

I think it starts with everybody just buying in. You know, the keyword now that’s used around college football is “alignment.” They’re talking about the ADs, the players, the staff. I think TCU had great alignment. They wanted to be good. They didn’t think the program would fall out just because they had to move on from Gary Patterson. So they brought in Sonny Dykes. The players responded immediately to the changes he made around the program.

If you just talk to people, they say it’s a more joyful energy. It’s more open – open environment, practices, media and things of that nature. So I think that stuff, and then you combine what they’re doing on the field – there’s a lot of talent on his TCU roster. They’re going to have a nice number of guys that end up in the NFL, and some of those guys are going to be drafted pretty high, in my opinion. It’s just a great balance of coaching and talent.

TCU now holds the designation of being the first Texas school to make it into the College Football Playoff since that started in 2014. What does this mean for the Lone Star State to have one of its programs on this big stage, especially if they go all the way?

Well, I’m an outsider, but for a while now, I thought you could have made the case that you had the best football program in the state of Texas. It wasn’t the biggest, obviously, but I think that conversation comes back around now and then. You know, the Big 12 is obviously going to change in the next couple of years. I think TCU has now positioned itself – it’s kind of the team that could become the new face of the Big 12 when Texas and Oklahoma end up leaving for the SEC.