SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There are any variety of reasons that this cute little Texas Christian University football team has elbowed its way into the College Football Playoff, the realm of the behemoths.
There may be the plucky, carrot-topped Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback, who was relegated to backup duty initially of the season by the genius latest coach, who’s so good he once got fired at California.
There may be the star receiver, a top N.F.L. prospect who didn’t go for an even bigger school that might funnel him loads of money. Then there may be the remainder of the ragamuffin roster that was picked to complete seventh within the Big 12, a conference so prestigious that its most noteworthy programs — Oklahoma and Texas — can’t wait to go away.
We could go on, however it still wouldn’t add up.
There seems just one reasonable reason the Horned Frogs are pitted against mighty Michigan on Saturday in a semifinal game on the Fiesta Bowl: the ability of the Hypnotoad.
What number of points is the Hypnotoad value?
“Oh, man, it’s unlimited,” said Steve Avila, an all-conference guard.
“One million,” said receiver Taye Barber, displaying less fealty to the deity.
(The Hypnotoad, it ought to be noted, apparently doesn’t work additional time; T.C.U.’s only loss this season got here when the Big 12 championship game against Kansas State required additional time.)
The Horned Frogs, who’re the primary school from Texas to take part in the four-team playoff, which began in 2014, and the second to achieve this after starting the season unranked, could hardly be more unlikely to have landed here. The identical goes for his or her omnificent talisman, which was hatched far-off from the football-mad state of Texas — within the comedic laboratory that may be a Hollywood writers’ room.
The premise of the long-running animated show “Futurama,” the brainchild of the “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, is that a pizza delivery guy is cryogenically frozen and wakes up 1,000 years into the long run. So, after all, there’s room for the Hypnotoad, an ancillary character whose vibrating eyes can move sheep — and mankind, reminiscent of it’s going to be — to extraordinary lengths, including inducing entire arenas to repeat the mantra: “All glory to the Hypnotoad.”
But this — an actual, live football crowd rising in unison on the mere sight of an animated frog — could also be much more surreal, life imitating art.
“The overlap of Futurama and the fandom of football — that’s a decent little Venn diagram,” said Eric Kaplan, the tv author whose germ of an idea was fleshed out by his collaborators into the Hypnotoad. He described himself as “stoked” concerning the character’s second act as a pigskin meme.
“That the fans of T.C.U. have taken a personality who I created, and so they’re sampling it and remixing it, and it’s change into a part of their emotional and athletic lives — it’s amazing,” Kaplan said in a phone interview from Romania, where he was vacationing.
Because it seems, for the last decade, a fan of the show — Clayton Regian, who graduated from T.C.U. with a level in film, cinema and video studies — has been embedded within the athletic department’s video production unit.
Back in 2015, a moment of inspiration hit when T.C.U.’s football team returned from a win at Minnesota and the video unit was charged with coming up with something clever to elicit excitement from the group the best way the Golden Gophers had done by putting an enormous, wildly popular meme of a prairie dog on the video board as T.C.U.’s kicker attempted field goals.
“I all the time thought Hypnotoad was a really funny idea,” Regian said. “Each time you’d see a clip of Hypnotoad on the web — it didn’t matter what site — the comments were the identical: ‘All glory to the Hypnotoad’ was repeated. Everyone seems to be fidgeting with the concept that they’ve fallen under the spell.”
The Hypnotoad made occasional appearances on the video board at T.C.U. home games over time, cooked up by a handful of video wizards. It surfaced at men’s basketball games last season.
This fall, after the brand new football coach, Sonny Dykes, had encouraged everyone involved with this system to let their creative flags fly, the Hypnotoad curiosity morphed into something else. Because the Horned Frogs began the season with 4 victories, including a rout of Oklahoma, the appearances of the Hypnotoad on the video board transfixed the house crowd. The zanier — and more hypnotic — they became, the louder the group grew. And the louder the group, the higher the Horned Frogs played.
They clawed back from 14 points down within the fourth quarter to edge Oklahoma State in double additional time. The subsequent week, they overcame an 18-point deficit to beat Kansas State. Two weeks later, they rallied within the fourth quarter to knock off Texas Tech.
“One game, I’m standing on the sidelines looking up and considering, ‘I don’t understand what it’s, however it’s awesome,’” said Jason Andrews, the director of football creative media who oversees T.C.U.’s similarly smart, subversive social media account.
Wes Harris, an offensive tackle, recalled huddling along with his teammates across the offensive coordinator, Garrett Riley, during a timeout within the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State when the group suddenly got here to life. “I’m looking around to see if perhaps considered one of the old players is walking out,” Harris said. “After which I look up on the screen and it’s: ‘the Hyp-no-toad,’” Harris said, lowering his voice to mimic the announcer’s dramatic, monosyllabic tone. “After that, it went crazy.”
When a photograph of Dykes wearing a Hypnotoad sweatshirt to practice was posted on social media, it accelerated the phenomenon, and an area sensation became a viral one.
The players soon got Hypnotoad gear, which is popular enough around campus that some players say they’ve been asked to sell items for a pair hundred dollars. Max Duggan, the quarterback, showed up at a postgame news conference wearing a Hypnotoad T-shirt. (T.C.U. doesn’t sell the gear due to copyright laws, however it has contacted Disney, which owns the rights and is moving ahead with a revival of “Futurama” for Hulu, a few licensing arrangement.)
Hypnotoad banners and signs dotted the group on the Big 12 championship game this month.
Dykes said on Thursday that at a spot like T.C.U., which is in its fourth conference for the reason that Southwest Conference dissolved in 1996 and has to fight for relevance within the Dallas-Fort Value market, it was natural to embrace anything that helped forge an identity.
“We’ve all the time said, ‘OK, how can we get anyone to cover us? How can we get some fans to return to our games?’” said Dykes, who, along with California, has coached at Louisiana Tech and Southern Methodist. “The product on the sphere is all the time going to be crucial thing, but what else can we do to have interaction the fan base?”
He recalled a memory from his western Texas childhood. Each time Midland Lee, the highschool where his father coached, played Odessa Permian — in a rivalry famously captured by the book “Friday Night Lights” — his father’s team girded for the moment when the Permian band would play the “Hawaii Five-O” theme song, firing up the group.
“If you heard that theme song and also you were playing Permian, it was sort of considered one of those deals where you were like, ‘You higher hold on. Here they arrive,’” Dykes said.
This embrace of an animated, authoritarian frog is smart to Kaplan, too, if for more esoteric reasons.
If, he said, religion was the externalization of community, because the French sociologist Émile Durkheim believed, what higher place for the Hypnotoad to take root than in Texas, where God and football appear to be worshiped in equal measure.
And what higher platform than the Fiesta Bowl, where the notion of communal passion is widely known because — well, it’s only a game and never, say, the Crusades.
“Mind control has all the time been an interesting topic,” Kaplan said of an Orwellian concern that turning on the tv or occurring social media might allow a malefic force into your brain. “The concept you could possibly have a toad that might control what you believed and wished and desired and dreamed of — it’s a really powerful character.”
Ah, but we digress to football.
Those hopes and dreams of a national championship, as fanciful as they may need once seemed for T.C.U. players, are actually close by. And so, even with a wink and a nod, the concept that the team is being driven by the looks of a strong force is one which the Horned Frogs are at the very least willing to entertain.
“One time, within the fourth quarter, I’m taking a look at it, and it’s messing me up,” said Quentin Johnston, the team’s star receiver. “I do know the opposite team is getting tousled.”
Harris said that when an opposing player had been examined after successful had left him woozy, he’d told his teammates otherwise. “The Hypnotoad got him,” Harris said. “It bamboozled him.”
It’s unclear how much help the Hypnotoad might be on Saturday.
There might be T-shirts and hoodies, banners and signs paying homage to the Hypnotoad, and ESPN, which is broadcasting the sport and owned by Disney, is preparing a relevant segment. But whether the Hypnotoad appears on the video board is as much as the sport operators of the Fiesta Bowl, though they’ve been provided video clips.
Michigan, though, appears mostly unconcerned.
Asked how his team had prepared for the Hypnotoad, Michigan defensive back Mike Sainristil said: “The Hypnotoad? What’s the Hypnotoad?”
When the Hypnotoad was explained to Michigan defensive end Mike Morris — it took a moment, and a look at a picture on a reporter’s phone — he scoffed. “We’re Wolverines, bro,” he said. “Attempt to put a screen in front of us and check out to get us hypnotized. We’re just going to go blank and keep playing football. We’re trained soldiers.”
J.J. McCarthy, Michigan’s contemplative and meditative quarterback — that might be him, eyes closed, sitting cross-legged under the goal post before Saturday’s game — has seen cannons and fireworks at Rutgers and heard the third-down bell ringing at Ohio State. He has not yet been fazed.
But he had not, until Thursday, considered the ability of the Hypnotoad.
“I appreciate the warning,” he said, offering a fist bump to a reporter. “I’ll be looking out for it.”
On that count, he won’t be alone.