The 2014 college football season is almost upon us. The first FBS game takes place next Wednesday, as Georgia State hosts Abilene Christian. Then the fun really gets started on Thursday when South Carolina welcomes Texas A&M and Boise State plays Ole Miss in Atlanta.
When I think about the opening days of the college football season, I think back just a few years ago when we got an unexpected barnburner of a game in Waco.
Coming into the 2011 season, Gary Patterson had the TCU Horned Frogs revving on all cylinders. The Frogs were coming off a 13-0 season that culminated with a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Over their last 28 games, the Frogs were 27-1.
Art Briles was entering his fourth year as Baylor head coach and was slowly starting to turn the Bears around. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons to begin his tenure, the Bears went 7-6 in 2010 and went bowling for the first time since 1994.
Coming off a 45-10 blowout of the Bears in 2010, the Frogs opened as a 6.5-point favorite in this game, which had an over/under of 55. Since renewing the rivalry in 2006, TCU had outscored Baylor 89-17 in three games.
Would this time be any different?
The Bears wasted no time showing that they weren’t going to be an easy out on this night. On the first drive, the Bears pulled a trick out of their hat that even caught the camera crew and announcers off guard, as wide receiver Kendall Wright caught a lateral pass and then immediately threw the ball deep to Terrance Williams for a 40-yard touchdown.
TCU was surprised but came right back at the Bears with a 73-yard kickoff return to the Bears’ 15. Two plays later, TCU quarterback Casey Pachall took a read option into the end zone for the Frogs’ first score.
After trading a few punts, Pachall hit Josh Boyce with a 38-yard pass to set up a Matthew Tucker touchdown run. Baylor would answer when Robert Griffin III started to get into a groove: He hit Kendall Wright on a 32-yard pass. Five plays later, he hit him again for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
The first quarter ended with TCU up 16-14, and while this wasn’t the Gary Patterson defense we had grown to know and appreciate, we knew this game had a ton of potential for sheer enjoyment.
Baylor erupted in the second and third quarters, as RG3 threw four touchdown passes in those two quarters and Baylor built up a 47-23 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
It was fun while it lasted, but this one was all but over… but Pachall had something to say about that.
Pachall, a sophomore who had only attempted 9 passes the previous year, settled TCU down and led the Frogs on a six-minute, 14-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown pass to Logan Brock and then a two-point conversion, as Pachall took it in himself to pull TCU within 16 points.
A little later, Skye Dawson then gave TCU a short field with a 30-yard punt return and Pachall hit Josh Boyce for a nine-yard touchdown. He followed up that scoring play by going back to Boyce for the two-point conversion. While TCU steamrolled down the field, the Horned Frogs’ defense began to get stops against a Baylor offense that was tightening up under the pressure of the moment. Baylor kept surrendering possessions, and TCU wouldn’t stop making use of them.
Pachall would add another touchdown to pull TCU within two points, and then Ross Evans hit a field goal to put TCU up, 48-47. If TCU could have held on, it would have completed one of the greatest comebacks in college football history.
RG3 and Terrance Ganaway had other ideas.
In the second and third quarters, Baylor scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions (not including a four-play possession that ended at halftime), but the Bears’ last three possessions had lasted a total of only seven plays and four yards and had resulted in two punts and a fumble. When the Frogs scored on four straight possessions, they fully erased their scoreboard deficit.
Despite being at home, the odds and the momentum seemed to be stacked against the Bears. When their final drive started, the Bears found themselves immediately against a wall on third and 10. That’s when the Bears went back to their bag of trick plays. Kendall Wright completed his second pass of the night, this one to RG3, and the Bears extended the drive. Trick plays are generally supposed to easily outflank the defense, but this gadget wasn’t defined by ease; it was marked by RG3’s gutsy catch over the middle, revealing the kind of effort Robert Griffin is still known for as the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
Baylor went on an 11-play, 60-yard drive that took up three and a half minutes. RG3 produced some key plays on the drive, and running back Terrance Ganaway grounded out some tough yards until kicker Aaron Jones hit a 37-yard field goal with just over a minute left to give Baylor a two-point lead.
TCU came roaring back down the field as Pachall completed four straight passes, including a 30-yarder to Matthew Tucker, to get TCU out from the shadow of its own end zone. But, it was not to be. Baylor’s Mike Hicks abruptly stopped the Horned Frogs’ promising drive in its tracks by intercepting a Pachall pass. Just like that, Baylor snuffed out TCU’s chances of completing an all-time fourth-quarter comeback.
This was not only one of the most exciting opening weekend games in recent history, but it was one of the best games in recent history. ESPN ranked it No. 2 in the top 25 games of 2011. Not many expected a wild, fun shootout when they tuned into watch Baylor take on TCU, but that’s what makes college football so great: you never know what’s going to happen.
TCU would go on to have a fine season, as the Horned Frogs finished 11-2 overall and 7-0 in their final year in the Mountain West Conference.
For Baylor, this was the turning point of the Art Briles era. The Bears would sustain three losses throughout the year, but they also put a stamp on the season — and RG3’s Heisman campaign — with a late-season shocker against Oklahoma.
Who’s ready for football season to start?