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FORT WORTH, Texas – E.J. Bibbs watched his final game at Iowa State from the sideline in his No. 11 jersey and shorts.
The tight end for the Cyclones couldn't play because of a leg injury, one of many on the roster to be sidelined in a season sabotaged by bumps and bruises.
Iowa State lost to No. 4 TCU 55-3 on Saturday, unable to generate much offense without one of its best threats and going winless in the Big 12 for the first time under sixth-year coach Paul Rhoads.
Still, Rhoads sees the Cyclones (2-10, 0-9 Big 12) closer to where he wants them to be than a third winless conference season since 2003 would indicate.
"Being 0-9 and being 2-10, that's hard probably for an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old to fully grasp at this point, especially with the emotion that they're just wrenched with," Rhoads said. "It's not hard for me to understand and see. We're a lot closer than we are further away. But a lot has to take place to get over that hump."
The recovery starts with health.
Nine players had been lost to injuries before Bibbs went down, including linebacker Jevohn Miller. Only four players started every game, and one of those — defensive lineman Brandon Jensen — didn't make it to the end against the Horned Frogs (11-1, 8-1).
Quarterback Sam Richardson, who was 16 of 40 passing for an offense that generated just 236 yards, is among those returning as the Cyclones try to get at least closer to the .500 mark where they hovered in Rhoads' first four seasons before dropping off to 3-9 last year, when injuries also were an issue.
"I'd like to finish with a senior day where we're all padded up instead of going out in street clothes," said Rhoads, who is now 29-46 and got a public endorsement from athletic director Jamie Pollard this past week. "If you're undermanned, you want to go out there and try to find a way to give the kids a chance to win."
Trevone Boykin passed for a career-high 460 yards and caught a touchdown pass as TCU earned a share of the conference title and kept its playoff bid alive.
The Horned Frogs came into championship weekend ranked third in the College Football Playoff selection committee's rankings. TCU was the only playoff contender not playing a ranked team this weekend.
There wasn't much the Frogs could do to help themselves against the Cyclones, but they avoided the type of clunker that could have caused the committee to downgrade them.
"Now we'll just wait. We'll watch," said coach Gary Patterson, who fired a football into the stands after the win at Amon G. Carter Stadium, toward the Horned Frogs fans waving Big 12 championship towels and chanting, "Gary! Gary!"
The players sported their Big 12 champion baseball caps and conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby gave the Frogs a trophy.
Aaron Green scored two touchdowns for TCU, which is in just its third season in the Big 12 after conference hopping for nearly two decades.
Boykin's first career touchdown reception got TCU off to a good start. The junior threw a backward pass to David Porter, who threw back to Boykin, behind a wall of blockers. The quarterback, who had 26 catches last season playing receiver, went untouched 55 yards.
Then a penalty here, a negative red-zone play there and a couple of turnovers kept TCU from pulling away in the first half. It was 17-3 at the break before Green took a swing pass 54 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-3 just 66 second into the second half. The rout was on.
"We were pesky for 30 minutes and pleased with the effort and the response of our guys through that first 30 minutes," Rhoads said. "We were worn out in that 30-minute effort and I think that showed quickly in the second half."