The rivalry between TCU and Baylor is one of the best things going in college football. We chronicled the acrimonious recent history between the Bears and Horned Frogs before their meeting in Waco, and since then the stakes have only been heightened to fourteenth power.
The Oct. 11 game between TCU and Baylor was one of the best of the season thus far, with TCU building a 58-37 lead only to allow Baylor tie the game in a span of six minutes and 14 plays. The Bears then stuffed a 4th-and-3 in Baylor territory with just over a minute to play and drove 44 yards to set up the game-winning field goal as the clock hit triple zeroes.
That 61-58 Baylor win has become the lightning rod issue of the season, as 8-1 TCU sits fourth in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, three spots ahead of 8-1 Baylor.
Those are just a few of the tweets that have appeared on my timeline since Tuesday night's third rankings release; I'm sure yours has many as well. It's one of those controversies that demands an opinion.
But how about the opinion of one of the principals involved? In the event of an 11-1 tie, TCU head coach Gary Patterson acknowledges Baylor will earn the nod for the Big 12's automatic berth into the a New Year's Six Bowl thanks to that head-to-head win. "They should, they beat us, there's no questions asked, that's what the rule is," Patterson told the Associated Press. "But you still get a trophy for being (Big 12) co-champions, and that's the one thing that I can control."
The selection committee would be free to choose the Frogs over the Bears for a spot in the semifinals should it see fit, but Patterson isn't worrying about that just yet. He's been through this before. On Nov. 21, 2010, Patterson's Frogs were 11-0 and ranked third in the BCS standings, placing them in line for a guaranteed BCS bowl berth, manna from heaven for a Mountain West program at that time, but Boise State was also undefeated and ranked fourth, one spot behind TCU, as it headed on the road for a game with Chris Ault, Colin Kaepernick and No. 19 Nevada.
A win over the Wolf Pack would assuredly allow Boise State to hop over TCU for the coveted spot. But Boise State did something it absolutely never did in its ultra-successful Chris Petersen-Kellen Moore era: it blew a game. The Broncos led 24-7 at halftime and 31-24 inside of five minutes to play, but kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yard field goal that would have won the game in regulation and a 29-yarder in the top of the first overtime. Nevada knocked in a 34-yard try four plays later for a 34-31 win. TCU would go on to beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, one of the wins that helped sling-shot into a Big 12 invite.
"We thought it was over, then Boise gets beat in Reno, then we're back in the Rose Bowl," Patterson said. "What I learned out of that experience was you just better take care of you, because that's all you have. ... We've just got to be able to be the best football team we can possibly be, especially knowing that nobody even thought about us eight weeks ago, maybe even four weeks ago."
Patterson and Briles have lobbed verbal grenades back in forth at each other in years past, but the lines have been quiet this season. Maybe the mutual respect between each program is at an all-time high. Perhaps it's because, with three games apiece remaining and many dominos still to fall elsewhere in college football, it's too early to trot out the talking points and stump speeches. Or it could be because Briles voted himself into a corner the last time a Big 12 head-to-head debate dominated the college football conversation, when Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech staged their infamous three-way tie in 2008.
(For the record, Briles voted Oklahoma first, Florida second, USC third, Alabama fourth, Texas fifth, and Texas Tech sixth. Oklahoma would have passed Texas for a BCS National Championship spot anyway, but it didn't endear him to the locals.)
So for now, the airwaves are quiet. Baylor still has to beat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State, and TCU still must defeat Kansas, Iowa State and beat a dangerous Texas team in Austin on Thanksgiving night. Alabama and Mississippi State play this Saturday, Oregon and Arizona State are on a collision course in the Pac-12, and Florida State, Ohio State, or someone else likely has a loss coming that none of us can see.
In the meantime, Patterson hears your debates, and he's ignoring all of them.
"I watch all the banter between TCU and Baylor. The bottom line is, I saw something (former Texas coach) Mack Brown tweeted out, we both need to enjoy the ride," Patterson said. "You've got two really good football teams. ... Both in the state of Texas, they just need to enjoy the ride, hopefully that we can both win out, win 11 games and have an opportunity to go do something like that."