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College Football Rewind: Serendipity, thy name is TCU in wild and crazy win over Texas Tech

They’ll celebrate a bizarre bit of good fortune this week at Texas Christian, and understandably so. The Horned Frogs, hardly the beneficiary of great luck over the last month or so, escaped Texas Tech with a 55-52 victory secured only when running back Aaron Green caught a tipped pass in the back of the end zone with 23 seconds remaining.

Savoring the serendipity shouldn’t mean, however, that the verdict TCU is staring at over the entirety of the season should be ignored: Texas Tech might not have done in the Horned Frogs, but somebody probably will before long. Maybe multiple somebodies.

“Obviously I’d rather not have given up that many points, but like I said last week, if our job on defense this year is to hold them to one less, then that’s what we do, ” Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson told reporters afterward in Lubbock. “All we care about is every week we move forward and we win a ballgame.”

That’s swell, and also not really a problem so long as there isn’t a threat of both teams hanging half-a-hundred. But TCU (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) figures to find itself in at least two more shootouts against high-level teams (Oklahoma and Baylor to close out the season) and possibly two more scoreboard-busters against Oklahoma State and West Virginia teams that enter October without a loss.

None of those games will be played before Oct. 29, and Patterson’s defensive reputation is exquisite. But the Horned Frogs are likely to ask a ton of quarterback Trevone Boykin and wideout Josh Doctson moving forward, and Doctson (a 1, 000-yard receiver last year) will only draw more attention from opponents after his 18-catch, 267-yard, three-touchdown day against the Red Raiders.

The problem for TCU isn’t that it is relying on its offense. The Horned Frogs brought back 10 starters from a unit that averaged 46.5 points last season. Of course TCU was going to find itself in some high-scoring games.

Yet with six defensive starters shelved already (five because of injuries, another with a leave of absence), the Horned Frogs don’t appear well-equipped to alleviate pressure on their offense.

“Been here 18 years, outscoring people for 12 ballgames, ” Patterson told reporters. “Why not? Everybody else has been doing it. I’ve been having to do it with defense and winning 17-10. How about we go nine and ten ballgames and outscore people. That would be nice. You guys kill me. If I win 17-10 I have no offense. Now I win 55-52 and you’re going to say we’re going to have to ride Doctson and Trevone.”

Well, yeah, but not because of some misguided sense that scoring a ton of points is bad. But it is dangerous to need that sort of output on a frequent, if not every-week, basis.

The shame of it all is this year had all the makings of the Horned Frogs reaching a competitive peak under Patterson — which is saying something given his phenomenal success in Fort Worth. Unlike his Rose Bowl team in 2010 when TCU was still in the Mountain West, there would be no strength of schedule argument denying the Horned Frogs a shot to play for a title if they ran the table.

An undefeated season wasn’t going to be easy, of course. But it’s going to be much, much harder if TCU can’t figure out how to slow down its top remaining foes at least a little.

Problems on the Plains

The question for Auburn is no longer whether the Tigers can regroup and make a run at an SEC title or even whether quarterback Sean White can fare better than the deposed Jeremy Johnson.

Rather, it’s time to wonder just how bad things are going to get for a team that didn’t reach the end zone in a 17-9 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn (2-2, 0-2 SEC) still must face Mississippi, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama over a five-week stretch that begins on Halloween. In the interim, the Tigers could have a tricky time at both Kentucky and Arkansas.

A consensus top-10 team in the preseason, Auburn has watched its season unravel in three steps, from a near loss to Jacksonville State to a beatdown in Baton Rouge against Louisiana State and now this latest setback. Chalk some of it up to the absence of a dynamic rushing presence at quarterback, but there seems to be plenty ailing Gus Malzahn’s team.

This much seems certain: For a team whose ceiling entering the season was a national title in the eyes of many, the floor may now be a losing season and the absence of a bowl bid.

WEEKEND WINNERS

Leonard Fournette. The Week 4 verdict on the Louisiana State sophomore tailback: Still awesome. Fournette rushed for 244 yards and two touchdowns, helping to bail out a Tiger team that was decidedly lethargic in the first half of its 34-24 victory at Syracuse. His damage to date through three games? Eight touchdowns to go with 631 yards. He exits September very much in contention for a stiff-arming statue.

Michigan. There are few sure things in September, but the first three weeks offered the impression Brigham Young was a pretty stout bunch. It beat Nebraska and Boise State, then nearly knocked off UCLA. So for the Wolverines to pounce quickly and yield only 105 yards (on just 50 snaps) to the Cougars carries some value. Michigan (3-0) next heads to Maryland for Jim Harbaugh’s Big Ten debut.

Utah. Utterly demolished Oregon at Autzen Stadium in a way that could lead to the same sort of post-mortems for the Ducks that Alabama received last week. But this also says plenty about the Utes (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12), who aren’t known for piling up points but have now positioned themselves as maybe the most logical team to give UCLA a run in the Pac-12 South. After next week’s bye, Utah gets five of its final eight at home.

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