When the 2018 schedule came out, the state of Texas looked like the place to be in Week 3.
Ohio State and TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. USC and Texas clashing in Austin. Three of the 12 winningest programs in college football history, along with a fourth, TCU, which boasts the nation's sixth-best record (130-40) since the beginning of the 2005 season. What more could you want on a mid-September night?
Both games are just days away, but only one merits top billing. The other pairs two tradition-rich teams trying to find themselves. Ohio State and TCU (8 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC) feels like a potential playoff-shaping matchup. Both teams are 2-0. College GameDay will broadcast from TCU's campus. Ohio State is playing its final game without suspended coach Urban Meyer. Gary Patterson's team, always dangerous as an underdog, tries to validate itself as a contender.
"For a long time, TCU kind of recruited diamonds in the rough and developed guys," said a coach who has served in the Big 12. "Now their players are as good as anybody's. When I was looking at Texas' personnel, I thought there were four, maybe five guys at Texas who could play for TCU."
Texas-USC lacks the same sizzle. Neither team has looked particularly sharp early this season. Both squads are searching for an identity before league play begins in earnest.
I spent this past weekend in the Lone Star State, talking to coaches and players from TCU and Texas, as well as other coaches who have watched both teams and their upcoming opponents. Here's why Ohio State-TCU is so pivotal, and why USC-Texas has lost its luster.
Why TCU could push Ohio State
Walking into SMU's defensive meeting room in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Patterson looked like a coach who knew his team couldn't afford a repeat of what had just happened at rainy Ford Stadium. A sluggish first quarter, a muffed punt leading to a safety and the rare whiffed snap were among the Horned Frogs' early miscues before they pulled away for a 42-12 victory over the Mustangs.
"We understand that the next ballgame here, Ohio State, is not SMU," Patterson said, "not in any aspect whatsoever."