By CARLOS MENDEZ
Tribune News Service
The players on this TCU team are close to doing what the players on no other TCU team have done.
Play in a national semifinal game?
Yes, but maybe better than that -- become the first Horned Frogs to win a Big 12 championship.
Just three years into their membership, they are within two games of claiming at least a share of the football trophy. If they win at Texas on Thursday night and at home two weeks later against Iowa State, the Horned Frogs will be champions or co-champions of the 10-team league, one of the Power 5 conferences.
The playoffs would be nice.
The trophy would be concrete.
"That is true. That would be an awesome feeling to be the first class to a win a Big 12 title," senior receiver David Porter said. "The playoff situation, we can't control. We're aiming to get a piece of that Big 12 title and be the first class in TCU history to get a Big 12 title."
A spot in the College Football Playoffs would remain in play if TCU were champs or co-champs at 11-1. But whether the Horned Frogs land in the semifinals or not, they are convinced that the conference championship is something firmer to shoot for. They know how to do that.
"Every team wants to win the conference title in their conference," senior safety Sam Carter said. "You just want to win."
"That's never changed," Porter said. "When we were in the Mountain West, that was always our goal: conference titles."
There is nothing like the first one, however.
And nothing like doing it a mere three years in.
Only Texas and Nebraska, the first two Big 12 champions, would be able to claim a quicker title in this league. Texas A&M won a Big 12 crown in its third season.
It took Oklahoma five years, Colorado six, Kansas State eight, Oklahoma State 16 and Baylor 18 to win their inaugural Big 12 titles.
"I think our kids are excited, more than anything, to have an opportunity to win a conference title in three years," coach Gary Patterson said. "There have been others that it took a long time before they could get that done, to be even close to having the opportunity."
In the Big 12, which has no championship game, the coaches voted to share the title in case of a tie. Each school gets a trophy. Oklahoma and Kansas State were co-champions in 2012.
To claim the title outright, an 11-1 TCU team would need a loss by both Baylor and K-State. Those teams meet Dec. 6, but unless one or both of those teams lose before that game, there is no chance TCU could be the champion by itself.
But no matter the form it may take, the thought of a conference champion has been like a beacon to the Horned Frogs. It has allowed them to block out thoughts of the four-team playoff.
"When you're the first to do something, it's pretty exciting," Carter said. "That's the only thing we're really worrying about."
The Horned Frogs have their chance to complete a season of turnaround. They were only 6-12 in their first two years in the Big 12.
Now they're in the mix for a title and more.
"You don't get very many chances, windows, to win championships," Patterson said. "I know our fan base would love to be in the playoffs, and so would we. But for us, right now, the best way to do that is to win a conference title, which is by winning the next two ballgames."