Why TCU should still be looking over its shoulder after a statement win Saturday

FORT WORTH, Texas – Congratulations on a big victory, TCU Horned Frogs. And condolences on what might come next.

Your 41-20 whipping of Big 12-leading Kansas State could conceivably earn you a demotion from the No. 6 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings this week. Or at least a lack of a promotion.

This is the fine mess the CFP selection committee finds itself in after a Saturday that established a new pecking order in the Big 12.

TCU improves its record to 8-1 overall, 5-1 in the conference. Yet Baylor, a team which was six spots behind the Horned Frogs in the CFP Top 25 last week, had an even more impressive victory earlier in the day. The Bears smashed Oklahoma in Norman, 48-14, and suddenly they have their own 8-1 resume that no longer looks inferior to the Frogs'.

Not when Baylor beat TCU head-to-head, 61-58. And not when Baylor beat Oklahoma in Norman by 30 more points than TCU did.

Yeah, there is the West Virginia comparison – the Mountaineers beat the Bears by 14 in Morgantown and lost to the Frogs by a point on the same field. And there are the non-conference schedules, which tilt in TCU's favor on the sole basis of Minnesota's surprising competence.

But if all things are equal in the end in terms of record, that head-to-head result between the Bears and Frogs isn't going away.

Trevone Boykin finished with 335 total yards and four TDs in TCU's rout of Kansas State. (USAT)
Trevone Boykin finished with 335 total yards and four TDs in TCU's rout of Kansas State. (USAT)

So just when Gary Patterson's team looks like it could be in the clear, creaming the last team on its schedule with a winning record, Baylor may sneak up to pull the playoff red carpet right out from under the Frogs.

The committee's unappealing choices are these: either leave Baylor behind TCU despite considerable doubt about whether that should be the case, or stiff TCU mere days after its most impressive victory of the year.

This is what you get when you ask the selection committee to do a public top 25 every week. What made sense one week gets turned on its head the next. It will leave fans griping at the results and committee chairman Jeff Long grasping at explanations, which then will be attacked by everyone with an opposing viewpoint.

They asked for it. They're going to continue getting it.

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte was on the sideline of a blacked-out Amon G. Carter Stadium last night as the final minutes ticked away. Asking him about the playoff was like telling him the cops were at the door to break up a house party.

"Let it work," he said, good-naturedly. "Don't let math get in the way of a good story. Let us enjoy the victory."

TCU can enjoy this until Tuesday night, when the new CFP rankings come out. Then we'll see whether the outrage lies in Ft. Worth or Waco.

Separation Saturday performed some of its expected housecleaning, sweeping out Auburn and Kansas State and Notre Dame and Michigan State. With the clutter lessened, here's what we've got:

Florida State's position remains secure. The Mississippi State-Alabama game in Tuscaloosa on Saturday will establish one as the SEC leader, and if 'Bama wins it could give the league two playoff teams. Oregon and Arizona State are on a Pac-12 title game collision course that could decide a berth. Ohio State's takedown of Michigan State seemingly leaves the Big Ten on the outside looking in – although the Buckeyes will get a big bump in the rankings this week.

That conceivably leaves the Big 12 tussle for what could be the fourth playoff spot. And there is a very real chance that Baylor and TCU will both finish 11-1 overall, 8-1 in the league.

TCU coach Gary Patterson didn't exactly embrace that debate Saturday night. But when asked (and asked, and asked) he didn't completely shy away from it, either.

"You've got to stay out of the middle of all that stuff," he said. "All I know is that we were No. 6, they were No. 7, and we won."

Patterson noted that "Baylor did a great job" winning at Oklahoma. He also noted that Sooners leading receiver Sterling Shepard didn't play. And he noted that Minnesota is now 7-2 after beating Iowa. And that TCU's loss to Baylor "was at their place, it was a three-point game."

Bryce Petty and the Bears made a statement of their own against Oklahoma on Saturday. (USAT)
Bryce Petty and the Bears made a statement of their own against Oklahoma on Saturday. (USAT)

And this, too: "I don't see anything left on [Baylor's] schedule that should mean more than what's on our schedule."

What's left on Baylor's schedule: Oklahoma State, at Texas Tech and Kansas State. The same Wildcats who left here beaten down look like the most significant impediment to the Bears going 11-1.

Which means Gary Patterson could use a Dec. 6 favor from his alma mater (which he referred to as his "alumni" after the victory Saturday night). As of today, K-State coach Bill Snyder is a believer in TCU.

"Based on what happened tonight," Snyder said, "this is the best team we've played."

Despite missing its leading rusher, TCU outrushed K-State by an even 300 yards. After a fairly brutal game at West Virginia last week, quarterback Trevone Boykin re-established his Heisman candidacy with 219 passing yards, 123 rushing yards and four touchdowns – the highlight score being his athletic flip into the end zone on a scramble up the middle.

Boykin said he used to be able to do back flips "all day" as a kid. Flipping forward was a different deal – and it left a lot of TCU fans and coaches holding their breath.

The staff's message to Boykin when he got to the sideline: "Be safe, take care of your body and try something different next time."

As a whole, TCU wants to try the exact same thing it accomplished here for the remainder of the season – take care of business as the stakes rise. Next up is a trip to league doormat Kansas, and the season ends with a game against co-doormat Iowa State. In between is a Thanksgiving night game at Texas. Keep an eye on that one.

"It's almost like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," running back Aaron Green said. "We potentially have a chance to play for a national championship. If you can't get ready for that, stay home."

If Baylor and TCU both win out, someone is very likely to be left home when it comes to picking the playoff field. Good luck to the selection committee sorting it out.