Around this time last year, TCU was near the bottom of the Big 12 barrel. The Horned Frogs were fresh off an overtime loss to West Virginia, which ultimately meant being in the middle of losing five of their last six games.
In short, the Horned Frogs weren’t taken seriously. Not by opponents. Not by analysts. Not by many of their fans.
And especially, not by star recruits.
Funny how things can change in a year. As well as the opinions of recruits.
With four games left in the regular season, TCU is 7-1 and ranked No. 6 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Their only loss coming on the road at Baylor, the Horned Frogs are literally a play or two away from being undefeated.
“For myself, I had to take a step back and say, ‘Man, look at TCU,’” uncommitted ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “This is not the team you were seeing the last year or two.”
A season-opening win against Samford was all but expected. Following wins against Minnesota and SMU were considered silent locks. It was a home win Oct. 4 against Oklahoma, however, that put TCU on a slight pedestal.
And then, the Horned Frogs shocked the world by hanging with a Baylor team many felt was untouchable at the time. In fact, the Horned Frogs led for 3½ quarters before ultimately falling, 61-58.
Since then, TCU has outscored its opponents 155-66. It routed Oklahoma State by 33, put up an incredible 82 points on Texas Tech, and pulled off a last-second win on the road against West Virginia.
And just like that, TCU's relevant within the national recruiting circle. Very relevant.
“I talk to recruits all the time, and they’re paying attention to the turnaround,” ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Brennen Wooten, one of two 2016 TCU commits. “They’re playing very well; they’re winning, and that’s huge. It’s really an exciting time for TCU.”
Credit Gary Patterson and his coaching staff for the turnaround. Patterson has been one of the nation’s best coaches when it comes to getting the most out of his players. Since 2011, TCU has signed only 15 four-star players. Four of those were ESPN 300 athletes.
Compare that to a team like Alabama or LSU. The 2013 Crimson Tide class alone had 18 ESPN 300 signees. The 2014 Alabama class had 19. The Tigers’ 2013 class had 15 ESPN 300 players. The LSU 2014 class had 16.
“He’s about winning and doesn’t give up,” Jefferson said, “and he makes sure his team doesn’t give up.”
“This season is a product of the last half of last season,” Patterson said. “I think that’s when this team started maturing. We lost four games by a total of 11 points. That’s one of the things that’s really helped them mature, not to forget where they come from.”
TCU’s 2015 class currently has only one four-star pledge in receiver J.F. Thomas. The Horned Frogs most recently picked up a commitment from DeShawn Raymond, a high three-star prospect from Louisiana. Raymond is the Horned Frogs’ first true cornerback pledge of the 2015 class.
And as long as TCU continues to impress on the field, look for the program to be in the running for a few other athletes -- whether they’re committed to other schools or they’re uncommitted.
One player to watch is ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge. A former Texas A&M commitment, Lodge is considering the Horned Frogs, along with Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Baylor and a couple other schools.
Lodge calls the TCU coaching staff “a bunch of great guys,” and he’s been monitoring the rejuvenated offense under co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. The Horned Frogs are averaging 48 points and 550 yards per contest with those two in charge.
“They made it look simple,” Lodge said. “They’re putting things in place and not trying to overscheme. They run a pro-style offense, and they’re throwing the ball. They’re going to be aggressive the whole game, and when you do that, it’s kind of scary.”
Just ask Texas Tech. TCU’s 82 points resulted in a school and Big 12 record for points scored, as well as school records in passing yards (433) and touchdown passes (seven).
Add in TCU’s bread and butter -- its defense -- and the program is a lightning rod for prospects. ESPN Junior 300 cornerback Jared Mayden has been to TCU for “four or five visits” and said the combination of an effective defense with a well-oiled offensive machine should bring in a few big-time commits in upcoming classes.
“When you see everything clicking at one time,” he said, “it makes you pay more attention to the program.”
A shot at a College Football Playoff berth could be heightened with a win Saturday against No. 7 Kansas State. A big win over the Wildcats could allow TCU to leap No. 4 Oregon or No. 5 Alabama -- which would put the Horned Frogs in an excellent position to clinch a playoff spot as Alabama and No. 3 Auburn play each other on Nov. 29. The loser would benefit TCU, assuming the Horned Frogs win out.
Best believe, the uncommitted will be watching what the Horned Frogs do in the next four weeks. The 17-recruit 2015 class could see a couple of four-star additions -- and, quite possibly, a five-star signee if Patterson and Co. are fortunate.
“I feel like we’re going to get a few others. I think we’ll explode,” Wooten said. “It’s just a great time for everybody right now.”