LAWRENCE, Kan. -- TCU needed only one more inch to keep its playoff hopes alive.
So instead of kicking the field goal and giving Kansas a chance to send the game to overtime or win it in on a two-point conversation, Gary Patterson went for it on fourth down, and quarterback Trevone Boykin dove for the game-clinching first down.
Saturday, the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs escaped Lawrence by inches in an ugly performance in every way a game can be measured. As a result, TCU’s playoff chances are sure to take a hit when the selection committee reconvenes this week to update its rankings. Even Patterson conceded such a likelihood.
But, as the Oklahoma State Cowboys can attest from their calamitous trip to Ames in 2011, the most important detail of the weekend was the Horned Frogs won. And so while damaged, TCU’s playoff hopes are far from dead going into the final three weeks of the season.
“This was not going to get any style points,” Patterson told ESPN.com Saturday night. “I know it’ll probably hurt us.
“But the biggest thing is we got to 9-1. We found a way to win on the road, with some bounces that didn’t go our way. A lot of teams would have lost this game.”
From Kansas’ opening possession, it was evident it wasn’t going to be TCU’s day to get the bounces.
TCU roughed the punter to keep the Jayhawks' drive alive. Later in the same possession, Kansas bobbled the snap on a field goal try, but holder T.J. Millweard rolled out and found a receiver for a first down. Three plays later, Michael Cummings’ third-down pass ricocheted off the arm of TCU safety Sam Carter and into the hands of Nick Harwell for a first down. The next play, Kansas scored a touchdown.
"We didn't get a lot of breaks," said TCU safety Chris Hackett, who in the second half tipped another pass up in the air, which Nigel King hauled in behind the defense in stride for a 78-yard touchdown that gave Kansas a 27-17 lead.
Still, when it looked like the Horned Frogs were destined to lose after fumbling the ensuing kickoff return away, they fought back.
Terrell Lathan sacked Cummings to get TCU the ball back. Boykin finally regained his rhythm to push the Horned Frogs back down the field for a touchdown. And then Cameron Echols-Luper took a punt 69 yards to the house to give TCU its first lead since the first quarter.
Those -- and Boykin’s late fourth-down conversion -- were enough to get TCU the win.
But they won’t be enough to impress the playoff committee, which is sure to compare Baylor’s 60-14 win over the Jayhawks two weeks ago with the Horned Frogs’ narrow escape.
“If we get in [playoff] that’s great. If we don’t -- it’s not up to us,” Boykin said. “It’s nothing we can control. The only thing we can control is winning games.”
So while they’ll likely fall out of the top four this week, as long as the Horned Frogs keep winning, they'll still have a chance to get in.
“A lot of things that can happen, a lot of people still have to play each other,” Patterson said.
“Now every week in college football has become like a month.”
Baylor knows this better than most.
In just a week, the Bears went from the team that didn’t play anyone in the nonconference to the team that beat Oklahoma by 34 points on the road, completely changing their national narrative.
TCU can do the same when it travels to Texas on Thanksgiving night for a national TV game. With a performance resembling the one Baylor delivered in Norman, no one will be talking about Kansas.
“Our kids found a way to win, they could have lost that ball game, which would have been a lot worse,” Patterson said.
Because they found way, the Horned Frogs remain alive and kicking in this new era of college football.
When a contender is determined by an inch and a week can feel like a month.