For a few weeks earlier this fall, TCU didn't look a lot like a College Football Playoff team. The Horned Frogs were a bit flat in a season-opening win against Minnesota and needed a miracle to beat Texas Tech a few weeks later. All the while, their good injury fortune from last year had gone sour, and they didn't always look as good as their top-five ranking.
After a 40-10 rout of West Virginia on Thursday, it certainly looks like that's all over.
The Frogs ran up 616 yards of total offense and utterly embarrassed what had entered as a top-25 WVU defense by S&P+. Trevone Boykin ran (and flipped) wild, and he threw for 388 yards and three scores against a thinned but still talented secondary. TCU didn't turn the ball over and out-gained West Virginia by almost 300 yards.
This makes three terrific performances in four weeks for Gary Patterson's team. The Frogs disemboweled Texas back on Oct. 3, then outgunned Kansas State in a more challenging game on the road. They were 6-0 at that point and have now followed it up with back-to-back blowout wins: over Iowa State last week and West Virginia on Thursday.
While the Cyclones are quite awful, the Mountaineers aren't, and Texas appears to be a lot better than it did after TCU's thrashing at the start of the month. The Mountaineers came to Carter Stadium on Thursday as a top-10 team by S&P+. Even if they're not that good, it speaks volumes that TCU dispatched them so easily.
What's behind TCU's turnaround, if you can even call it that? It starts with defense. Everybody in college football knows the Frogs can score with the best of them, but they struggled to defend over a four-game stretch in the middle of their season. In their games between Sept. 19 and Oct. 10, the Frogs gave up 35.3 points per game. In their last four strong games (and, yes, there's some overlap in these stretches), they've given up 20.8.
The defense shined, in particular, against West Virginia. The Mountaineers' explosive offense came in averaging 5.8 yards per play, and TCU held it to a paltry 4.3. Mountaineer quarterback Skyler Howard was a lousy 16-of-39 passing for 160 yards, a score and an interception. No one in West Virginia's talented receiving corps got free for more than three catches or 42 yards. West Virginia only had three plays longer than 15 yards.
The Frogs' long-term trend has been one toward playing far better defense. Fortunately for them, their offense carried them when that wasn't the case. While their defense was being gashed over those four games, their offense was scoring at least 50 points every time out. Such is the benefit of having Boykin, receiver Josh Doctson and running back Aaron Green.
Earlier this year, TCU was uneven – a shaky defensive squad propped up by a Heisman-caliber quarterback and an all-world offense. Now, the Frogs look like a complete team, and they're 8-0. That's bad news for the rest of the Big 12 and everyone else vying for a Playoff spot.