Too High to Win? Can TCU Play in The Mountains?
This Saturday the TCU Horned Frogs begin their annual expeditions into the mountains of the American West with a game in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy.
Given that TCU's home field is located at a relatively low altitude at six hundred twenty-eight feet above sea level, some people may believe that the Frogs will fall to the wayside mainly due to the playing a number of games four thousand feet of more above the hills of north Texas.
The Mountain West Conference is truly a conference located high in the mountains. Of the eight highest altitude stadiums in FBS college football, six are the home stadiums of MWC teams (with only Utah State's Romney Stadium and Colorado's Folsom Field being out of the conference).
The highest of these is War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyoming, at over seven thousand two hundred feet. The second highest is Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs.
So, how have the Frogs done playing in the altitude?
The results may be surprising to some.
In its entire history, TCU has played in the state of Utah eight times, four of which have occurred in the last four years as a member of the Mountain West Conference. TCU has two wins ever in the state of Utah, where the lowest stadium is Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo at 4650 feet.
TCU defeated BYU in 2005 51-50 in a massive come-back. The Frogs were down 41-29 in the 3rd quarter and BYU had knocked starting TCU quarterback Tye Gunn out of the game. Jeff Ballard came in for the Frogs and pulled out the win, going 8-12 passing the ball, with two touchdowns.
TCU's other win in Utah occurred in 1984 at Utah State.
At Wyoming, the Frogs have split the two games played at Laramie's 7215 foot elevation War Memorial Stadium, losing in 2007 and blowing out the Pokes in 2005.
In Colorado, the Frogs have gone 3-3 over the years, with the last loss being in overtime to the Falcons in 2007, in a game where Air Force came back from being down 17-3. The Rams have not defeated the Frogs since TCU joined the Mountain West Conference.
The Frogs have played five games in New Mexico, where the stadium sits at over 5100 feet above sea level. The Frogs have not lost to New Mexico since 1996 when Gary Patterson was the Lobos' defensive coordinator, going 2-0 at New Mexico since joining the MWC.
Counting all games TCU has ever played at over thirty-five hundred feet, TCU is 11-14. Counting just the games played since Gary Patterson arrived at TCU as the defensive coordinator in 1998, TCU is 9-6. Since joining the MWC in 2005, TCU is 7-5 in games played at 4600 feet or higher, with three of those losses coming in 2007's 8-5 season.
So, does TCU underachieve in altitude?
In 2005, TCU the Frogs went undefeated in conference in a 11-1 season, winning three games at high altitude.
In 2006, TCU lost two games in conference, going 11-2 overall. The losses were at BYU and to Utah at home.
In 2007, TCU went 4-4 in conference play, losing three of those games at high altitude.
In 2008, TCU went 7-1 in conference, losing only at eventual No. 2 Utah in the final minute.
Overall, the Frogs have lost five conferences games in altitude by a total of thirty-one points, with only one game losing by more than five points.
It appears as those it matters little where TCU plays the games. TCU has done well at high altitude in good seasons and underachieved in 2007, losing three close games.
Will Saturday's game against Air Force be a epic battle between the nation's best rushing defense against one of the nation's best rushing offense? Yes, but the altitude and the mountains should provide little more than a scenic backdrop for the game.
Bad weather will impact the game much more than the altitude, but the Frogs have won back to back games in downpours.
I stick to my earlier prediction and call it 34-17 for the Frogs.
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