'08 Surprise: TCU Positioned Itself With Strategic Losses

S. Mark GrahamCorrespondent IJuly 22, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Runningback Ian Johnson #41 of the Boise State Broncos dives for the endzone pilon against the defense of Cornerback Rafael Priest #10 of TCU during the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 23, 2008 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

In 2008, TCU was rightfully overshadowed by Utah, a team that went undefeated and finished ranked number two in the AP poll.

This was a major step that all non-BCS schools can be grateful for; it was another battering on the door of the rich house.

But TCU accomplished something that in some respects could be considered even more surprising and perhaps equally advantageous to the have-nots of college football. What was TCU’S groundbreaking accomplishment? 

Despite starting the season unranked and suffering from two losses, TCU finished seventh in the final AP poll. No team—not even a squad in one of the big six conferences—has even come close to finishing so high with two losses. 

TCU could not have accomplished this without victories over teams that were undefeated and ranked No. 9 at the time.

Those teams were Brigham Young and Boise State. TCU and all college fans owe Boise State and the WAC some gratitude for rearranging things to allow TCU and Boise State to meet in Southern California. Ball State, which turned down an invitation to meet an undefeated Boise State, should learn by Boise's example.

Before the bowls kicked off, most writers had the TCU-Boise State game as one of the top five interesting bowl match-ups

Incredibly, TCU’s two losses to Oklahoma and Utah did almost elevated the Horned Frogs' position just as much as their key victories. Many stars were aligned right for TCU to be able to achieve their high final ranking. There was good timing, luck, and good play of course, but there were also some important events that displayed a change in thinking in the way the voters voted. 

In fact, if TCU’s progress was plotted on a chart and compared to similar teams, it would reveal some remarkable aberrations.

TCU was way off the radar when the season started. Four quick victories—including one over Stanford—saw Gary Patterson’s squad jump just inside the Top 25 going into their game against OU in Norman.

TCU got smacked early and a lopsided defeat got them knocked back down to No. 32. 

A couple of victories later, they had clawed to No. 27. A big victory over number nine BYU propelled them all the way to No. 15. It was not only the victory over the Cougars that helped boost the Horned Frogs.

By this point, every time TCU was mentioned, the statement “and Oklahoma only scored 35 points against them,” was added. This was a bit generous because OU went on cruise control after their fifth touchdown, knowing full well that the TCU offense could never must a comeback.

In any event, the loss to OU turned into a badge of honor.

A couple of victories and TCU had scratched up to No. 11. There was something unique about this. Some power teams with two losses—such as Ohio State, Georgia, and LSU—could not maintain their position in front of the Horned Frogs. Usually, once mid-majors made it into the top 12, they hit a wall as others jumped over or stacked up in front.

Then came something even more surprising. TCU lost to Utah in the 11th week, but only fell four places. They stayed ranked ahead of some big name schools like Florida State and Michigan State, which also had two losses. This was truly unprecedented and showed a growing respect for both the Frogs and the Utes.

A win in the last game of the regular season bumped TCU right back up to where they were before the loss to Utah and, amazingly, they finished the regular season No. 11 in the BCS standings. If not for Utah and Boise State in front of them, this would have been enough to guarantee the purple a BCS bowl berth.

Finally, TCU’s win over Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl raised the Frogs to the lofty position of No. 7 in the final AP standings.

Looking at the big picture, we see that TCU’s two losses cost them at most five positions in the final standings. Although TCU’s losses were disappointing to Frog fans, they did very little damage.

As things turned out, TCU may well have benefited from the loss to Utah. After all, there is no knowing if the Horned Frogs would have even played in a BCS bowl had they beaten Utah; much less knowing whether they would have played as well as the Utes.  Without a doubt, the Utes finish at No. 2 was good for all non-BCS schools.

However, TCU managing to keep moving up during the season without getting knocked off the radar after a loss or two.