Editor’s Note: Joe Nelson is the No. 2 NFL handicapper on VegasInsider.com. Check out his weekly college and pro football selections every week. Click to win!
While the NFL takes center stage on Thanksgiving there is a meaningful Thursday night college game that will be worth checking out. The first season in the Big XII has not gone exactly as planned for TCU with some major setbacks but this is still a competitive team that can play with anyone. Texas has struggled this season with many calls for Mack Brown to be replaced but at the end of the day the Longhorns are 8-2 and still have a path to win the Big XII and advance to the Fiesta Bowl. Take a look at this week’s Thursday night matchup and the history between these teams.
Matchup: TCU Horned Frogs at Texas Longhorns
Venue: Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas (FieldTurf)
Date: Thursday, November 22, 2012
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET – ESPN
Line: Texas -7, Over/Under 58
Last Meeting: 2007, Texas (-9) 34-13, at Texas
Thanksgiving used to be reserved to Texas vs. Texas A&M but with the Aggies making a successful but contentious move to the SEC, TCU takes over the spot, likely ending a streak of 96 straight years where the Aggies and Longhorns have faced off. That streak could actually continue however as the Cotton Bowl likely has eyes on that matchup should both teams fall short of the BCS. TCU jumped to the Mountain West and then planned to jump to the Big East before things opened up in the Big XII. Despite being one of the most successful programs in the nation in the last decade, the move has been a challenge and this trip to Austin renews an old rivalry from the past.
Texas was 5-7 in 2010 for a disastrous season following up the loss to Alabama in the 2009-10 BCS Championship game. That season ended a run of nine straight double-digit win seasons for Mack Brown and the Longhorns. A mulligan was perhaps granted by the fan base but not a lot of progress was made last season in an underwhelming 8-5 season. Expectations were high this season with a ton of talent returning and a schedule that appeared favorable. The Longhorns managed to beat Oklahoma State in the conference opener but then lost to Big XII newcomer West Virginia. In those two games Texas allowed 84 points in shootouts and then came the ugly 63-21 loss to Oklahoma, a game in which Texas was out-gained by nearly 400 yards.
Texas obviously fell off the national map at that point but the Longhorns have quietly won four straight games. The first two wins were not very impressive, wining 56-50 and giving up big yardage against Baylor at home and then narrowly squeaking by lowly Kansas on the road. Texas has since regrouped and shown improvement with a win at Texas Tech and then in its last game they played a fantastic game on both sides of the ball to crush Iowa State. Texas is sitting at 8-2 and climbing back into the middle of the Top 25 rankings and still in position to have a shot to win the Big XII and earn a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
That scenario requires some help but it is not too far-fetched. Texas needs to beat TCU and then beat Kansas State on the road next week, finishing 7-2 in league play. They also need Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma on Saturday and then beat Baylor next week, and have the Sooners beat TCU next week. That would leave four teams at 7-2 on top of the conference. Texas would win the tiebreaker at that point, having gone 2-1 against the three teams that they would be tied with and having defeated Kansas State head-to-head, the other team that would also be 2-1 in those games.
It is a long shot but Texas still has a lot to play for and even if that scenario does not play out they can still be lined up for an attractive bowl slot and even a possible at-large BCS spot should Kansas State or Oklahoma fall out of the picture. Texas quarterback David Ash has had back-to-back strong games to finally bring some stability to that position and while it has been a running back by committee approach this season the Longhorns are rushing for almost 200 yards per game. The Texas defense has terrible numbers for the season but they have played three solid games in a row, allowing just 46 points in those three games after allowing more than that combined total in each of the three prior games.
After going a combined 47-5 the previous four seasons, TCU will likely match or surpass that loss count in the first year for the Horned Frogs in the Big XII. The remaining schedule features Oklahoma next week it what could be a very important game for the Sooners so falling to a 6-6 finish is real possibility. TCU started the season with promise, winning the first four games of the season but junior quarterback Casey Pachall was arrested and ultimately suspended from the team at that point in the season. TCU has lost four of the last six games since Pachall left the team but it has not necessarily been the offense that has been to blame.
TCU has scored over 31 points per game in Pachall’s absence leading with redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin who has played well. TCU is also using sophomore Matt Brown as Boykin has battled injuries but he is expected to start this week. There were low output performances in losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas State but TCU has out-gained five of six foes since the quarterback change. The defense for TCU has been an elite unit nationally in last the several years under Gary Patterson but after allowing just 29 points in the first four games of the season, TCU has allowed 211 points in the past six games. The schedule certainly has played a huge role but now in the Big XII it is unlikely that the Horned Frogs will be able to replicate the great numbers they posted in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons, when they allowed less than 13 points per game and less than 240 yards per game.
TCU is already bowl eligible but after being in BCS bowls two of the last three years a much less glamorous trip to the Pinstripe Bowl or the Meineke Texas Bowl will likely be in the cards this season. Getting an upset over Texas on national TV would be a season-making type of win for the program even in a difficult season however so this should be a focused team looking for the upset. Texas has played lighter competition in the recent weeks to lead the turnaround so there is a lot to prove for the Longhorns in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Line Movement: Texas opened as an eight-point favorite but the line has dropped to -7. The total has been steady at 58.
Last Meeting: These teams last met early in the season in 2007. TCU led 10-0 at halftime but the game was tied entering the 4th quarter. Texas took control in the final frame, aided by a defensive touchdown and pulled away for a 34-13 win. Texas had significant yardage edges in the game but TCU also had four turnovers in a game that featured several current NFL players with Andy Dalton and Colt McCoy as the quarterbacks as Jamal Charles posting 134 rushing yards for Texas.
Series History: These teams have a long history, meeting annually as Southwest Conference rivals for years until the formation of the Big XII brought in Texas and left TCU behind. Texas is 61-20-1 in this series since 1897 but these teams have played just once since 1995. TCU last won in this match-up with a sizable upset in 1993, winning 23-14 as an underdog of more than two touchdowns. Texas is 7-2 ATS in the last nine meetings.
TCU Historical Trends: Gary Patterson has produced a phenomenal 114-34 straight up record at TCU, taking over before the bowl game for the Frogs following the 2000 season. He owns a 75-68-2 ATS record, a mark that has dissolved a bit in the last two seasons. TCU is 19-14-1 ATS as an underdog under Patterson as he has several notable big wins on his resume. His biggest win was the 2010 Rose Bowl over Wisconsin, and while it may have felt like the Frogs were underdogs, they actually failed to cover as a 3-point favorite in that game. TCU is 9-4 ATS as an underdog of seven or more under Patterson and 13-11-1 ATS as a road underdog.
Texas Historical Trends: Mack Brown is 149-41 SU at Texas, though just 95-91-2 ATS going back to 1998. Since 2009 Texas is just 20-28-1 ATS as the 3-9 ATS 2010 season weighs heavily on the recent trends. Under Brown Texas is 43-39-1 ATS as a home favorite including just 9-15 ATS in the last 24 instances. Texas has struggled in recent Thanksgiving match-ups as they are just 4-3 SU and 2-5 ATS in the last seven Thanksgiving games, all against Texas A&M, including losing SU in two of the last three home Thanksgiving games.