The Lone Star State is home to three Thanksgiving Day games, and the Big 12 showdown between TCU and Texas may provide the most intrigue of any game on the Thursday slate. Sure, Dallas-Philadelphia will draw plenty of interest in the afternoon, and Texas A&M-LSU is an interesting SEC contest, but this matchup between the Longhorns and Horned Frogs has national title and playoff implications in the college football world.
TCU ranked No. 5 in the latest playoff standings release and the road date in Austin is its toughest remaining game. The Horned Frogs have won five in a row since a 61-58 loss against Baylor and have some ground to makeup for the No. 4 spot. A loss against the Longhorns would end TCU’s playoff hopes. On the other sideline, Texas has won four out of its last five games and is looking to finish the year with momentum in coach Charlie Strong’s first season.
Texas has dominated the overall series with TCU. The Longhorns own a 59-21-1 series edge over the Horned Frogs. The two teams have split the series at one victory apiece since TCU joined the Big 12.
TCU at Texas
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Spread: TCU -6.5
TCU’s Key to Victory: Overcome the Recent Struggles Away from Home
TCU has experienced close calls in its last two road games. The Horned Frogs defeated West Virginia 31-30 and survived Kansas’ upset bid with a 34-30 win. Can TCU avoid another subpar road performance in Austin? If the Horned Frogs struggle, Texas has all of the necessary pieces to take advantage and pull of the upset. Getting the offense back on track will be crucial to holding off the Longhorns on Thursday night. In TCU’s last two road trips, the Horned Frogs lost five turnovers – and still won. West Virginia and Kansas gave TCU all it could handle in both matchups, and the Longhorns are a tougher all-around matchup. The offense can’t afford to make mistakes, and quarterback Trevone Boykin has to replicate his performance against Kansas State (219 pass yards, 123 rush yards), instead of his 12 of 30 for 166 yards and one score output against West Virginia on the road. In conference-only games, the Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 by scoring 46.4 points per matchup. There’s no doubt Texas will throw a few things at TCU with extra time to prepare. The Longhorns’ defensive front is active (37 sacks) and should challenge Boykin at the line of scrimmage. It’s important for TCU to win the turnover battle and find balance to offense to limit the pressure on Boykin against a stout Longhorns’ defensive line.
Texas’ Key to Victory: QB Tyrone Swoopes
There’s more to Texas’ victory hopes than Swoopes, but TCU coach Gary Patterson is one of the best defensive minds in the nation. And there’s no doubt Patterson will throw a few different looks at Swoopes to test the young quarterback. The sophomore has tossed three touchdowns to five interceptions in five home games but is coming off a solid performance against Oklahoma State (305 yards, 2 TDs). TCU’s defense has a strong front seven, which is led by linebacker Paul Dawson and a solid collection of talent on the line that has helped the Horned Frogs register 28 sacks in 10 games. Swoopes can counter TCU’s pass rush with his mobility, and the Longhorns may need 40-50 rushing yards from the sophomore on Thursday night. TCU’s pass defense isn’t as stingy as it was last year, but the Horned Frogs rank fourth in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense and have allowed 15 passing scores in conference games. Swoopes has developed a nice rapport with John Harris (59 catches) and Jaxon Shipley (58 catches) this year, and the receivers will challenge the TCU secondary. As a first-year starter, Swoopes has experienced his share of ups and downs. If he can deliver a complete performance on Thursday night, Texas will have a good shot at the upset.
There’s no doubt Texas is getting better, and this is a dangerous matchup for the Horned Frogs. TCU needs quarterback Trevone Boykin to continue his efficiency (only five picks in 386 attempts), while allowing the junior to use his legs against the Longhorns’ defensive line when the pocket collapses. And even though running back B.J. Catalon is not expected to play, the Horned Frogs can lean on Aaron Green (8.3 ypc) to provide balance. Texas needs to lean on its defense to hang around in this one. And if the Longhorns control the pace of the game with their defense, can the offense make enough plays in the fourth quarter to win? That’s the big question on Thursday night. Texas keeps it close, but TCU's offense makes just enough plays in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.