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TCU's good fortune turned bad, and now its College Football Playoff run is in danger

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The Horned Frogs have one of the best teams in the country, but so many key pieces from last year are either gone or hurt.

No. 4 TCU escaped Lubbock to get to 4-0 Saturday, and yes, escaping Lubbock is a challenge in itself. But after a 55-52 win over a good-not-great Texas Tech, it's fair to wonder whether the Horned Frogs have done a bit too much escaping already.

There was the 23-17 win over a Minnesota that has beaten Colorado State, Kent State and Ohio by three points each. SMU lost to FCS James Madison, but trailed by a margin of only 42-37 midway through the second half against TCU. Other than the blowout win over FCS Stephen F. Austin, TCU has had drama in every game this season.

And for a potential College Football Playoff contender with the meat of its schedule upcoming, that doesn't inspire much confidence.

The offense isn't the problem. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is still himself, and the Horned Frogs rank fourth nationally in offensive S&P+. TCU will hold its own in any shootout, but when you're in a league full of good offenses, going into a shootout each week isn't always sustainable. TCU's defense ranks 72nd nationally in S&P+, which is why the advanced stats have the Horned Frogs ranked 17th, nowhere close to Playoff-quality.

To some extent, this dropoff should have been expected. TCU was extraordinarily lucky last year, both in close games and injuries. Here's what Bill Connelly wrote in the offseason:

After a few years of untimely injuries, TCU suffered almost none last year.

Running back B.J. Catalon missed five games (and was replaced by the even more effective Aaron Green), No. 4 receiver Deante' Gray missed two, and that was about it for the offense. On defense, the top nine linemen missed a combined one game, the top four linebackers missed zero, and the top nine defensive backs missed zero.

That's an immaculate run that will be almost impossible to replicate.

The close wins are still there so far — TCU is 2-0 in one-possession games — but all the toughest opponents remain. And perhaps more importantly, the Horned Frogs' roster luck has reversed.

Cornerback Ranthony Texada, linebacker Sammy Douglas, safety Kenny Iloka and defensive end James McFarland are out with injury. Defensive end Mike Tuana, who was arrested for an alleged robbery, was suspended. Linebacker Mike Freeze left the team after Week 1. TCU had just one defensive starter from last year's Peach Bowl starting against Texas Tech, with the number seemingly dropping by the week.

Gary Patterson is one of the country's most proven defensive coaches, but this is a lot to overcome.

The Horned Frogs still have games remaining against two teams — West Virginia and Oklahoma — that rank above them in the S&P+ ratings. There's also the highly anticipated matchup against AP No. 5 Baylor. Oklahoma gets to host TCU, and the Frogs also have to travel to Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

This isn't to say TCU can't win those games. The Horned Frogs still have a talented team. But considering the attrition on defense, no objective observer can call TCU a favorite to get through that schedule unscathed.


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