In college football, parity has emerged like never before. Gone are the days of dynasty and domination enjoyed by powerhouses like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Miami, and Florida State. Those teams blew every opponent out by 40 points and truly were untouchable. Now, it’s not about a team’s margin of victory; it’s about survival. Just a few years ago, style points were all the rage. Now, it seems the only style necessary is to win, and whether victory comes by one or fifty is insignificant.
This year is a perfect example of this growing theme of parity. Florida has shown weaknesses in reaching a perfect record thus far. The Gators are far from perfect on the field, they have had to fight for every win. In this mini dynasty, the Gators have not completed a perfect season. Both national titles came with one loss. Perfection is no longer the only path to greatness; the new path of survival has been well traveled as the decade closes out. LSU won a national championship with not one, but two losses. Still, 2009, shows the gap is getting even smaller. The champions during these years were still traditional college football powers. For the first time in history, this is being challenged. TCU is leading the charge.
Saturday was the exclamation point on TCU’s quiet rise to fourth in the BCS rankings.
The Horned Frogs came out looking sharp, both in their new uniforms and in their execution on the field. ESPN’s GameDay gave Fort Worth a day in the spotlight. The fans took advantage of the opportunity, welcoming the ESPN crew to a raucous and excited campus for the first time. The players seized the moment later on in beating Utah 55-28.
College football circles are all a-Twitter with one question: Is TCU worthy of a spot in the national championship?
In previous years the question would have been: Is TCU worthy of a spot in a BCS bowl game?
This year’s question is a little different. Answers are a little different, too. Most would dismiss TCU in the national title picture (including myself), but the Horned Frogs look like the real deal. TCU put their talents on full display Saturday night in a highly anticipated showdown with Utah. Utah has credibility nationally dating back to Urban Meyer’s program. It grew after throttling Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl. Perhaps that win—over an SEC team that was the country’s top-ranked team for much of the season—was key for the respect for this year’s TCU team.
Add to that the shocking fall of USC (losing to Stanford 55-21 and Oregon 47-20), an unranked Oklahoma team, and a lack of any formidable teams from the Big Ten, ACC, and Big East, and it’s easy to support an impressive TCU team.
Under Gary Patterson, TCU has made defense the program’s calling card. Patterson has done a great job in building TCU. Jerry Hughes is a perfect example. The All American defensive end was a relatively unknown running back coming out of high school. Patterson and his staff developed Hughes into a dominant defensive end and the foundation for this year’s run. In previous seasons, the Horned Frogs cracked the top 25 because of their defensive prowess. This year is no different, but the offense is just as dangerous. Quarterback Andy Dalton has settled into his position in his third year. The experience is starting to shine as he quietly controls the offensive attack that dropped 55 on Utah. He has thrown for 17 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions this season. His smarts and efficiency are products of experience and hard work. In his previous meetings with Utah, Dalton struggled in committing costly turnovers. It is all coming together for Dalton and the Horned Frogs in 2009. TCU has already reached the highest ranking by a non-BCS school at number four. The trick now is whether or not they can jump any higher.
Whether they do or not, the entire country is witnessing a shift in college football and fans everywhere should respect the TCU’s and Boise State’s of the world. While they do not play great schedules, these mid-major powers are getting better schedules every year. Until the Big 12 invites the Frogs, Utes, and Broncos to join them, there’s not much they can do except wait for a playoff.
When Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy are gone next year, it seems college football will be even more wide open. While Florida and Texas transition, TCU looks set to continue its quest in 2010. First, though, they have to finish 2009 and the national championship window has not closed yet. Whether they reach Pasadena for the national championship or not, TCU is a great football team, and the country should take notice.