TCU fails to clinch College Football Playoff berth in OT loss to Kansas State in Big 12 title game

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs is tackled by safety Josh Hayes #1 of the Kansas State Wildcats in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images)

Kansas State stuffed TCU on fourth down to hang on for a 31-28 overtime victory in the Big 12 title game and possibly jeopardize TCU’s College Football Playoff hopes.

TCU RB Kendre Miller got stopped short of the goal line on first possession of overtime. Kansas State’s Ty Zentner then kicked the game-winning field goal on K-State’s possession to give the Wildcats their first Big 12 title since 2003.

The Horned Frogs (12-1) entered the Big 12 title game as one of three undefeated teams remaining in college football. While the loss could put TCU’s playoff chances in danger, it shouldn’t. Especially given USC’s loss to Utah on Friday night.

Kansas State (10-3) had a 28-17 lead in the fourth quarter but TCU scored 11 points in the final eight minutes to get the game to overtime. TCU QB Max Duggan had a heroic effort on the game-tying TD drive as he rushed for — no joke — 95 yards on the 80-yard TD drive, which included a 15-yard offensive pass interference penalty.

Duggan’s 8-yard TD run cut K-State’s lead to two with 1:51 to go and he hit Jared Wiley for the game-tying score. At that point, it appeared that TCU was going to yet again complete another second-half comeback to keep its undefeated season alive. But that failed to materialize in overtime.

What happened in overtime

TCU was facing second and goal at the K-State six and Duggan appeared to be inches short of the goal line on a second down run.

He was marked down a yard shy of the end zone, though replays showed the ball was much closer to the goal line, and not a full yard. But despite a lengthy review, the ball was moved just inside the 1 and not where it should have been.

That’s important, because Miller was stuffed on third down just short of the goal line. If the ball was spotted closer to the end zone, he likely would have scored.

There was also an overhead replay angle that showed Miller appear to reach the ball across the goal line. But the play was not reviewed.

Miller was then stuffed clearly short of the goal line on fourth down and Kansas State simply played for a game-winning field goal.

Why TCU should still make the playoff

The Horned Frogs shouldn’t fall any lower than No. 4 in the rankings on Sunday. Assuming wins by Georgia and Michigan in their conference title games, the Bulldogs and Wolverines will be the top two seeds in the four-team playoff. TCU could then conceivably slot in at No. 3 at 12-1 ahead of Ohio State at 11-1. The Buckeyes are not in the Big Ten title game after losing to Michigan a week ago.

There’s no way that TCU should fall below USC (12-2), and especially Alabama (10-2), since the Crimson Tide are also sitting on the sidelines on Saturday. The Horned Frogs have the best strength of schedule of any of the top teams because of the strength of the Big 12 in 2022 and have played one more game than both Ohio State and Alabama.

But while it’s reasonable to expect that TCU will be part of the playoff, the loss to the Wildcats understandably makes for some uneasiness for TCU fans. After all, this is the same team that was No. 3 on the final weekend of the season in 2014 and found itself outside the playoff despite a big win over Iowa State that week. TCU fans don’t want to relive that scenario again.

Duggan’s Heisman hopes are a tad more unrealistic than TCU’s playoff hopes, however. Duggan was clearly in pain on Saturday after a few big hits, yet he threw for 251 yards and rushed for 110. A TCU win made it easy to see him potentially leapfrogging USC QB Caleb Williams in the Heisman pecking order after the Trojans’ loss.

But now that TCU also lost in its conference title game, Williams is still likely the Heisman frontrunner.

Kansas State heads to the Sugar Bowl

As most of the focus will be on TCU and the playoff scenarios after the game, it’s important to note the fantastic season the Wildcats have had. Kansas State is a worthy Big 12 champion and it had to play three quarterbacks in its loss to the Horned Frogs earlier in the season.

With Week 1 starter Adrian Martinez sidelined with an ankle injury, Will Howard has filled in fantastically at QB. Howard threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday and also rushed for another.

Running back Deuce Vaughn was the start of the show. He rushed 26 times for 130 yards and also had two catches for 30 yards. Vaughn scored K-State’s last TD of regulation with this phenomenal open-field move.

At 10-3, Kansas State is going to the Sugar Bowl as the Big 12 champion. The Wildcats will likely face Alabama there and have a chance at their first 11-win season since 2012.