ARLINGTON, Texas — Inches. Maybe less. Maybe an inch. That's all Texas Christian needed Saturday, multiple times.
The third-ranked Horned Frogs came up short against Kansas State, and now they pray it doesn't cost them a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Kansas State staged a goal-line stand in overtime, then Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 31-28 victory at AT&T Stadium, and the drama of Saturday sets up the drama of Sunday.
The playoff committee will announce its field Sunday morning, and previously-unbeaten TCU hopes it doesn't get jumped by both Ohio State and Alabama.
"Look, we went through the Big 12 12-0," TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. "We've been able to figure out ways to win games like this all year long, I think we're certainly deserving. I don't think we should be punished for coming to the Big 12 Championship Game. I don't think the conference championship games are designed to punish.
"We were (No.) 3 last week, and my hope is we would stay at 3 and go tee it up, see how we do."
Staying at No. 3? That's a bold ask of the committee, which always favors bluebloods. And who has bluer blood than Ohio State or Alabama?
But while the Frogs were in an alley fight with the raw-boned, nail-tough, top-10 Wildcats, the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide were sitting on sofas in Columbus and Tuscaloosa, humming the Kansas State's fight song.
"Wabash Cannonball" rang throughout the stadium Saturday as the Wildcats celebrated their first Big 12 championship since 2012 and first win in the title game since 2003, when they shocked top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7, but the Sooners were still was selected for the two-team playoff.
Maybe this Kansas State victim will be so royally treated. Heck, maybe this game, this show, will serve as some of the best endorsement for the Frogs. Ohio State went down with a whimper a week ago at home against Michigan in a battle of unbeatens. In a wild environment in front of 69,335, almost all of them wearing various shades of purple, the Horned Frogs rallied from 11 points down in the final eight minutes against the 10th-ranked team and were beaten in overtime after back-to-back TCU plays came within a whisker of the ball crossing the goal line.
"We were literally an inch way from winning the game, or having a chance," Dykes said. "My hope is they see it the same way I saw it. The resume' is good enough. But our hope (was) not to have to rely on a beauty contest."
This was not just a showcase for the Frogs. This was a showcase for the Big 12. Don't look now, but the Big 12 title game has become must-see television.
The Oklahoma-Texas showdown in 2018. An Oklahoma-Baylor overtime clash in 2019. An Oklahoma-Iowa State thriller in 2020. The Oklahoma State-Baylor game of inches in 2021. Now this one.
Kansas State's defense consistently frustrated TCU's Heisman-hopeful quarterback Max Duggan. Wildcats tailback Deuce Vaughn rushed for 130 yards, and his 44-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter gave KSU a 28-17 lead.
“We didn’t come here for a participation trophy,” said K-State coach Chris Klieman.
But TCU scratched its way to a field goal, got a stop, then Duggan showed why he's worthy of Heisman consideration, directing an 80-yard touchdown drive on which he rushed for 95 yards. Duggan's 40-yard gain off a scramble set up his eight-yard TD run, and his 2-point conversion tied the game with 1:51 left.
On second down in overtime, Duggan fled the pocket and leaped for the goal line. He was ruled down at the 1-yard line, and replay review showed that when Duggan went down, he had the ball either on the goal line or just shy.
Then K-State stuffed TCU tailback Kendre Miller on back-to-back runs up the middle, the first of which Miller reached the ball and might again have crossed the plane. But officials ruled otherwise, and K-State needed only a chip-shot field goal to win.
"Didn't end the way we wanted it to," said Dykes, who in his first year in Fort Worth has directed a magical season. "Hell of a football game."
Now the Horned Frogs must wait.
"A little bit of anxiety for all of us," Dykes said. "But I got a lot of faith in the committee. They've got a difficult thing to do, but I think those guys will take a look and put us in."
I hope he's right. Do a blind resume' with 12-1 TCU, 11-1 Ohio State and 10-2 Alabama, and the Frogs would win. Justice is supposed to be blind, but the playoff committee is not. There's a gravitational pull to include Ohio State and Alabama.
Maybe the committee can resist the urge. Even if it’s by inches.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: TCU's College Football Playoff fate in doubt after Kansas State loss