In December, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson attended the Big 12 championship game as a spectator.

It was a short trek for the TCU cornerback. The host site, AT&T Stadium, is only 18 miles from campus. It was there that the feeling of the Horned Frogs’ missed 2021 opportunity really set in with Hodges-Tomlinson.

Four weeks prior, TCU had upset Baylor 30-28. But the Bears hoisted the league championship trophy on Dec. 4, eight days after the Horned Frogs finished a disappointing 5-7, missed a bowl and brought in Sonny Dykes to replace longtime coach Gary Patterson.

“Seeing them play in the Big 12 championship and knowing we beat them … I for sure felt like, ‘We’ve got a chance, man,’” Hodges-Tomlinson told The Athletic this week.

He wasn’t alone. Other TCU veterans knew their potential was far beyond the 16-18 record the team posted from 2019 to 2021. Many of those players, as recruits, chose the Horned Frogs with visions of contending for conference titles, which the team did consistently under Patterson until his final four seasons.

It took patience and a regime change, but the Horned Frogs finally look like a Big 12 contender early in 2022. Led by Dykes, No. 17 TCU vanquished its rival SMU for the first time since 2018 in Week 3, demolished perennial power Oklahoma 55-24 on Saturday and head into a critical conference showdown with No. 19 Kansas this weekend carrying a 4-0 record and an Associated Press Top 25 ranking for the first time in three years.

“They kind of had a quiet confidence about them from the get-go,” Dykes said Monday. “They had a determination to get the bad taste out of their mouth.”