FORT WORTH—With Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Alabama’s Nick Saban politicizing like prime contenders on national television before and after Saturday’s loss to TCU at the Big 12 championship, there was a bit of stress that night that the Horned Frogs might bounce off the football playoff in favor of bigger brands. After overtime loss to Kansas State, TCU Coach Sonny Dykes said he would trust the committee and put the fate of his program in his hands.
But on Sunday, when the TCU team, coaches, administrators, donors and their families gathered for a selection Sunday watch party at their stadium, about 25 miles from where the committee made its final decisions, no one could really know what would happen happen.
“Actually, I was pretty nervous,” said quarterback Max Duggan. “My heart was beating and waiting for it. They’ve waited so long from the #2 to #3 announcement.”
Sporting director Jeremiah Donati says he barely slept Saturday night and fired off some texts like a “nervous Nelly”. Duggan didn’t sleep much either… Although he was pretty exhausted in the game against Kansas State, he tossed and turned in concern. Kate Dykes said she and her husband Sonny agreed that morning: “We just had to make it by 11am [local time]’ to manage the stress.
They did, and in a function room on one side of Amon G. Carter Stadium, they watched as TCU was officially inducted onto the College Football Playoff field. Kate was jumping for joy on one side of the room while Duggan was hugging teammates on the other. Sonny hugged his daughters and initial excitement mixed with relief as everyone embraced and shook hands. TCU becomes the first Texas program to make the playoffs — not lost to Lone Star Natives Dykes. They will forever rule over the Longhorns, the Aggies and the Red Raiders, and they are only the second Big 12 program to make the playoffs in the format’s short history.
“It’s been quite a journey from where we were this time last year to where we are today,” Dykes said. “You have to give a lot of credit to our players and everyone associated with our program. only believe. Believing in the journey and doing things right and understanding that you work really hard and prepare. Drain the tank every Saturday and refill it once that’s over. Our boys did an incredible job there.”
What a difference a year makes: A little over 365 days after being hired, Dykes stood in front of the same room full of people and told those gathered: “I think what we have to do here and our goal from the start is Playing and winning championships. I spoke to our players yesterday and that’s our standard.”
Few coaches have delivered on that promise so quickly. He joins Lincoln Riley and Ryan Day as coaches who took their programs to the playoffs at the top in Year 1. All three took over teams built by coaching legends (Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer and Gary Patterson), but Dykes took TCU to the highest level in the sport – the other two kept them there. These frogs aren’t brimming with the five-stars that the Sooners or Buckeyes boasted, and they’ve done it the hard way, with multiple second-half comebacks (TCU is seventh nationally in second-half points per Game). Day and Riley inherited teams that had lost three games in the seasons prior to their acquisition, and both coaches were staff when promoted to the managerial post. TCU went 5-7 last year and Dykes was across Metroplex coaching SMU and delivered one of those losses.
“The culture that he brought to this program to steer us in the right direction a year from now shows a lot about Coach Dykes and that coaching staff and that culture and where this program is going,” Duggan said.
On the other side of Amon G. Carter are many signs depicting TCU’s postseason history. There’s a spot for national championships, the last one coming in 1938. There’s no spot for the playoffs that the Frogs narrowly missed out on in 2014. One of those things is sure to change now. Duggan and this program have certainly been through a lot. But now they’re going to the college football playoffs.
More TCU football coverage:
• Michigan, TCU make for a convincing semifinal
• Wettblick: Michigan preferred over TCU
• TCU playoff entry saves CFB season