Following a six-year hiatus, the Big 12 Championship Game is back, and just like old times, national championship aspirations will be on the line when No. 11 TCU and No. 3 Oklahoma face off for the second time this season.
The Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) need a victory to secure their spot in the College Football Playoff. Besides already beating the Horned Frogs 38-20 less than a month ago, Oklahoma is 7-1 in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Sooners also have quarterback Baker Mayfield, the overwhelming favorite to the win the Heisman Trophy.
TCU (10-2, 7-2) was a member of the Mountain West the last time the Big 12 hosted a title game, but the Horned Frogs now have an opportunity to claim their first outright conference crown since 2011. Gary Patterson’s team was co-champions in the Big 12 in 2014, TCU’s third season in the conference. Even with a victory over the Sooners, the Horned Frogs don't appear to have much of a shot at sneaking into the playoff. However, a win over Oklahoma on Saturday would be no less satisfying as it would give TCU payback, a conference title and potentially dash the Sooners’ national championship hopes.
5 Reasons Why TCU Will Win the Big 12 Championship Game
1. TCU head coach Gary Patterson
Oklahoma proved to be the better team when the Sooners played TCU on Nov. 12, but it’s very difficult to beat the same team twice in a season. It’s even more difficult when facing one of the best head coaches in the country.
Gary Patterson is 159-56 in 17 seasons as the head coach of the Horned Frogs, giving him a wealth of experience to draw from – especially compared to first-year head coach Lincoln Riley, who will be coaching in the biggest game of his young career. Patterson has won six conference championships in Fort Worth, including a share of the 2014 Big 12 title. Well regarded as a defensive mastermind and specifically for his role in popularizing the 4-2-5 alignment, Patterson gives TCU the best chance of drawing up a winning game plan against the Sooners. Having already played OU once, Patterson and his staff are sure to dissect the film from the first meeting, build on what worked, tweak what didn’t, and throw in a few new wrinkles to try and catch the Sooners by surprise.
It’s very, very difficult to hold the Sooners in check offensively. Led by one of the best quarterbacks in the country, OU leads the nation in total offense (593.5 ypg) and yards per play (8.56). No team has held the Sooners to fewer than 469 yards in any game this season, and Oklahoma already showed its ability to dissect the Horned Frogs by rolling up 533 yards (200 rushing, 333 passing) less than a month ago. Nevertheless, if there’s a team capable of slowing Oklahoma down, it’s TCU.
Patterson is a defensive-minded head coach, and it shows. TCU not only has the best defense in the Big 12, but the unit also has some of the most impressive defensive numbers in the nation. The Horned Frogs rank eighth nationally in scoring defense (15.7 ppg), which is remarkable given the high-flying offenses in the conference. TCU ranks second nationally in both rushing defense (90.0 ypg) and in yards per carry allowed (2.68). It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Horned Frogs put forth a much improved performance against the run Saturday.
Furthermore, TCU leads the Big 12 in pass defense (227.5 ypg) and yards per pass attempt (7.1). As a result, the Horned Frogs rank among the top 20 nationally in total defense (317.5 ypg) and yards allowed per play (4.83). The Sooners had plenty of success moving the football in the first meeting, but the TCU defense is capable of a return to form in the rematch.
3. Winning at the line of scrimmage
Sure, the TCU defense has good overall numbers, and the Horned Frogs have looked better and better each week (over the last seven games, TCU has surrendered 286.9 yards per game). But how exactly would the Horned Frogs go about neutralizing the Sooners? Winning at the line of scrimmage.
Baker Mayfield is arguably the best player in college football, but the Sooners know he’s at his best when defenses aren’t able to sit back against the pass. Therefore, expect TCU to load up to stop the run in an effort to keep Oklahoma behind schedule in its play calling and create second- and third-and-long situations. Mayfield is excellent outside the pocket, and he can both scramble for yardage and buy extra time to throw, but the Horned Frogs would have an advantage in obvious pass situations, especially given the fact TCU leads the Big 12 and ranks third in the nation with 40 sacks this season.
Likewise, the TCU offense must aim to establish the running game. The Horned Frogs have allowed a Big 12-low 14 sacks against Power 5 opponents this season, but eight have come over the last four games, including two by Oklahoma.
4. Neutral site
We don’t often talk about home-field advantage in conference championship games for the simple fact most are held on a neutral field. Generally, conference title games are played in NFL stadiums with smaller capacities than most of the large cathedrals in college football. AT&T Stadium is an exception, with its 80,000 seats just a few thousand shy of what’s available at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, but more importantly, the crowd in Arlington will feature far fewer OU fans than what packed the stands in the first meeting.
Therefore, it’s worth noting the lack of an Oklahoma home-field advantage creates an opportunity for TCU. The Horned Frogs will have roughly 50 percent of the support at AT&T Stadium, and both teams will be forced to deal with the unfamiliar environment that comes with playing away from home. The Sooners might be undefeated away from home this season, but TCU, which lost twice on the road, won’t have to travel into enemy territory. In fact, the Horned Frogs will even be able to sleep in their own beds the night before given the proximity of Arlington to Fort Worth.
5. KaVontae Turpin
We’ve said little about the TCU offense to this point, but the Horned Frogs have some players capable of making big plays against what has been a very sturdy Oklahoma defense. Quarterback Kenny Hill has completed an impressive 65.9 percent of his passes for 2,279 yards and 16 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Hill, a capable runner, also can make things happen with his legs, which is important with leading rusher Darius Anderson out due to injury. He also has done a good job spreading the ball around to a talented receiving corps, led by deep threat Jon Diarse, who leads the team with 460 receiving yards while averaging 17.0 yards per catch, and Turpin.
Listed at 5-foot-9 (though likely shorter) and 153 pounds, Turpin has averaged just 10.7 yards per catch this season, but leads the team with 32 receptions. The junior has hauled in only one touchdown pass, but he also is a threat in the run game, with 93 rushing yards and two TDs on just 10 carries. Additionally, Turpin, who is expected to play Saturday despite leaving last week’s game early with a lower leg injury, is one of the top special teams performers in the country. Simply put, Turpin can find the end zone any time he touches the football.
Turpin ranks sixth among punt returners in the FBS with an average of 14.1 yards per return, and has returned one for a touchdown, giving him three such plays in his three seasons. He also scored on a kickoff return against Iowa State, which helped boost his average to 34.0 yards per return, which ranks in the top five nationally. If the Sooners kick to Turpin, it could spell trouble. A special teams score can supercharge momentum, and even if the returner doesn’t find the end zone, he can have a huge impact on field position, setting the offense up with scoring opportunities. With Turpin, the Horned Frogs have a huge weapon in both areas.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributors Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.