ARLINGTON, Texas — TCU quarterback Max Duggan was battered and bloodied, physically exhausted and mentally drained. And still unsure if the third-ranked Horned Frogs had done enough to get into the four-team College Football Playoff.
Duggan dropped to his knees in the end zone after his 8-yard TD run ended his gutsy game-tying drive late in regulation of Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, and buried his facemask into the turf after diving and coming up just inches short of another touchdown in overtime. He then stood alone in the middle of the field with both hands on his helmet when his running back Kendre Miller was stuffed for the second play in a row, on fourth down, to give No. 13 Kansas State the ball one last time.
Ty Zentner then kicked a 31-yard field goal as the Wildcats beat TCU 31-28.
“We got beat today and now it’s out of our hands. That’s something that we wanted to do is be in control,” said Duggan, who had to gather himself after starting to talk on the podium. “All we can do is kind of watch.”
Deuce Vaughn ran for 130 yards and a touchdown and Will Howard threw two TDs for the Wildcats (10-3, No. 10 CFP), who six weeks earlier had jumped out to a 28-10 lead early in the second quarter before TCU scored the game’s last 28 points.
That was one of five games the Horned Frogs (12-1, No. 3 CFP) won when trailing after halftime. But they couldn’t do it again with the chance to guarantee being the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma to make the playoff.
TCU, the first Big 12 team to complete a regular season undefeated since Texas in 2009, could still get into the playoff. While their case was helped when fourth-ranked Southern California (11-2) lost 47-24 to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night, the Frogs now have to wait until the final CFP rankings come out Sunday.
“I think we’re certainly deserving. I think the league is one of the best leagues in the country to go through, undefeated in the league, certainly we ought to get in,” first-year TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. “And I don’t think we should be punished for coming to the Big 12 championship game.”
Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark said before the game that TCU, with first-year coach Sonny Dykes, already deserved to be in the playoff.
“You look at their strength of schedule. You think about how they’ve performed all year long,” Yormark said. “I think regardless, they should be in, for sure.”
Kansas State coach Chris Klieman agreed after his team reached 10 wins for the first time since 2012, when the Wildcats won the Big 12 title when there was no championship game.
“TCU should be in the in the CFP, they’re one of the best four teams,” Klieman said. “We went toe to toe with them. I thought we could go toe to toe with them and find a way to win. It was an exceptional football game.”
Duggan, who went from losing his job as TCU’s starting quarterback going into the season to now being a potential Heisman Trophy finalist, threw for 251 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for 110 yards with an 8-yard score with 1:51 remaining in regulation.
The quarterback was sacked three times, and hit numerous other times. He had to have patches on his bloody elbow replaced several times, and was so drained late in the game that the offensive linemen were basically carrying him off the field after drives.
“Obviously I was a little tired, but I think everybody else was and I wasn’t going to come out,” Duggan said.
“Typical Max Duggan performance,” Dykes said. “Just gritty, tough, made plays when he had to. Did everything that he could do to give us a chance to win.”
Vaughn’s 44-yard touchdown, including an open-field move that led to a defensive back falling down yards from him, made it 28-17 and capped a drive set up after Julius Brent intercepted a pass by Duggan in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But TCU scored the last 11 points of regulation, including Griffin Kell’s 42-yard field goal with 7 1/2 minute left. The kick ended a drive that Duggan kept alive with a 16-yard pass to Taye Barber on fourth-and-10.
Duggan’s TD run late in regulation came right after his 40-yard sprint down the left sideline after scrambling away from pressure on the previous play, though he still had to get up and throw a tying 2-point conversion to tight end Jared Wiley. He also had runs of 15, 13 and 19 yards on the drive, the longest of those three converting a fourth-and-2 from near midfield.
Just like 2014, the inaugural season of the four-team playoff, TCU went into its last game before the final rankings at No. 3, with Ohio State fifth.
TCU got left out that time, even after a seven-TD win over Iowa State in its regular-season finale before the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game later that day to make the playoff and win the national title. But this year, the Buckeyes (11-1) missed their conference title game after a loss last week to Michigan.
And now both of them are waiting for Sunday again.