Is TCU Here To Stay? A Look at the Horned Frogs’ Future in the Big 12
Chris Coduto/Getty Images. Pictured: Head coach Sonny Dykes (center) and the TCU Horned Frogs.
The darling of the 2022 college football season is a purple toad that might just send you into a trance if you watch too many of their social media videos following a win.
TCU is playing for a National Championship against Georgia this weekend in its first year under head coach Sonny Dykes, following a 5-7 season that didn’t feature a bowl game.
The turnaround is not only remarkable, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Georgia Tech went 5–6 in 1950 and followed up the next season by playing for a national title.
That raises a question: Is TCU going to run the Big 12 for the foreseeable future? Or are we witnessing a perfect storm of talent, coaching and on-field breaks resulting in a run the people of Fort Worth won’t forget any time soon?
This leads to two main points — the first of which is what’s going on with the Frogs this season.
There’s no denying what TCU has accomplished this season is nothing short of incredible. The Horned Frogs were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 this season and instead parlayed a perfect season into a College Football Playoff appearance and a win over Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal.
Runs to the College Football Playoff are hard. Only 14 schools have ever earned a nod by the committee in its nine-year history, with seven of those schools making the trip just once. So, just how did TCU get the job done?
The answer is not that far-fetched, though it may be a bit frustrating to hear for those fans who scream “Riff Ram” each weekend.
In all honesty, the answer is TCU’s 2022 season was a perfect storm across the board. When bounces needed to go its way, they did. When big plays needed to happen, they did.
Coming into the season, the Horned Frogs returned about 80% of their production from 2021, ranking 10th in the country, according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly.
Experience is not always the defining factor of a good college football team, but it certainly helps — especially when that experience comes in the trenches. TCU’s offensive line had 101 combined starts at the Power Five level coming into the season with the youngest member of the offensive line being a fourth-year junior.
That kind of experience on the offensive line leaves the unit’s coach with a raise at the end of the season more times than not.
Add that to the fact that TCU boasts Mel Kiper’s No. 2 wide receiver prospect in Quentin Johnston and a Heisman finalist quarterback who put the pieces together in 2022, and it makes sense why the offense was among the most explosive we’ve seen this season.
The Horned Frogs started just one underclassman for the majority of the season, defensive tackle Damonic Williams. The experience of this team made up for a lack of talent even when there was plenty of talent going around, to begin with.
The Horned Frogs went 6–1 in one-score games in 2022, including a buzzer-beating field goal against Baylor in Waco and an unprecedented amount of luck regarding opposing quarterback health.
Regardless, the Frogs turned heads and have taken care of business when presented the opportunity.
That leads to another question: Can this success be sustained? Is it time to look at TCU as the future of the Big 12 Conference with Texas and Oklahoma set to depart for the SEC in the near future? That answer is in recruiting.
Under former head coach Gary Patterson, the key to success for TCU was development. TCU’s best recruiting class over the last decade had it right on the outskirts of the 247Sports top-20 recruiting classes (21st in 2016).
Classes under Patterson ranged anywhere from the upper-40s to the lower-20s. However, recruits have taken notice of what TCU has done on the field this season. In the first full recruiting class under Dykes, TCU sits at No. 18, which would be its highest recruiting class in history.
To add to that, of the 50 highest-rated recruits to ever sign with the Horned Frogs, eight come in this class alone, per 247Sports. Dykes secured the highest-rated offensive or defensive lineman in TCU recruiting history with the signing of Markis Deal, a nose tackle out of Garland, Texas.
While recruiting in the Dallas/Fort Worth area has never been easier, TCU now has something it can hold over just about every school in the region — a National Championship appearance. TCU’s administration also announced in December 2022 an investment of $40M into facility upgrades, including a state-of-the-art football facility.
Another factor that will end up being favorable for the Horned Frogs was the Big 12’s decision to keep SMU out of the conference. DFW only has one Power Five school, and it just happens to be playing for a national title. That’s something recruits in the area notice.
TCU may not be able to completely replicate this season regardless of what happens against Georgia, but the Horned Frogs are certainly positioned to become the face of the Big 12 moving forward.
Going back to recruiting rankings, the Horned Frogs have the highest-rated class in what will become the “New Big 12” once Texas and Oklahoma depart and UCF, BYU, Cincinnati and Houston join the conference.
The momentum of this year’s run will carry over to the next couple of cycles as well, and all it takes is a string of two or three classes in a row for recruiting to truly snowball.
I would expect the Big 12 to run through Fort Worth immediately following the departure of the teams residing in Norman and Austin.