Commentary

Rubber match on tap for Fiesta Bowl

Updated: December 7, 2009, 1:17 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- TCU and Boise State are like old acquaintances that'd just as soon keep up with one another on Facebook rather than meet again face-to-face.

The BCS system had other ideas Sunday, pitting the two undefeated BCS-busters against each other in the Jan. 4 Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. It's TCU's first time to bash down the door of one of the five big-money bowls, while the Broncos of Boise State will go for their second BCS win in as many tries.

Neither program probably figured they'd wind up crashing the same party in 2010, but that's how it will be, a rematch of last year's Poinsettia Bowl, a fierce game won by TCU by a point, and the rubber game in their serial bowl feud. The Broncos took the first meeting in the Frogs' backyard in the 2003 Fort Worth Bowl.

But when you're TCU (12-0), now ranked No. 4 in the latest BCS poll, and sixth-ranked Boise State (13-0), brethren in battling the perception as little brother to the big-boy programs, you dream of proving your worth against the big boys, the way Boise State ousted Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and the way Utah silenced Alabama in last year's Sugar Bowl.

TCU, regular-season road victors against Clemson and Virginia, won't get that shot. The Horned Frogs praised Boise State as a worthy and dangerous opponent, but who could blame them if they felt a bit let down?

"Obviously, Boise is a good team, undefeated team, has proven themselves over the years, but in my opinion I wouldn't want to play Boise State again," TCU linebacker Daryl Washington said about an hour before the team gathered with about 3,500 fans at Daniel Meyer Coliseum to watch the BCS bowl selection show. "We beat them last year, it was a great game, 17-16, I wouldn't mind it being a rematch, but I would like to play Florida or Cincinnati in that case."

TCU fans probably felt the same, and maybe even the TCU athletic department staff did as well. Interestingly, no announcement was made to the assembled crowd stating the Frogs' bowl opponent. The crowd lauded the team when their destination was announced, but never did the name Boise State echo through the half-filled basketball arena.

Perhaps TCU didn't want to let the air out of the celebratory balloon, especially when the Fox TV cameras kept cutting in to capture the BCS-busting euphoria.

It was less than 24 hours earlier when TCU players, coach Gary Patterson and fans who have waited a lifetime for this very moment, braced for the unthinkable: a real shot at the national title game. But after Texas got a replay reprieve and game officials put one second back on the expired clock, Longhorns hero Hunter Lawrence snuck a 46-yard field goal inside the left upright to burst the Frogs' championship dreams.

"I was at the Texas game," Washington said. "You always had [the title game] in the back of your mind, but obviously we can only control what we can control. I mean, I was a Cornhuskers fan last night -- nothing against Texas, a great football team, but you want to see those upsets ... so you can be in a title game."

TCU believed enough national sentiment had built up in its favor -- one, for the general disgust toward the status quo, and two, because the Frogs have revealed their prowess on the field -- that a Texas loss could indeed lead to a run for the Roses. When Texas quarterback Colt McCoy tossed the ball out of bounds and the game clock hit double-zero, adrenaline and disbelief pumped simultaneously.

"It was a roller coaster of emotions," said TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, who watched the Big 12 championship game on television with teammates. "We had a couple of guys at the house and we were kind of freaking out, going crazy, but we knew something was up."

It was as if time had stopped.

"That last second I almost had a heart attack," TCU cornerback Rafael Priest said. "I was standing up the last 3½ minutes of the game. I couldn't sit down."

Patterson, who has built TCU into a perennial threat to the BCS hierarchy much the way Boise State's Chris Petersen has, clearly believed if Texas had folded, his Frogs were headed to Pasadena.

After the kick went through, he could no longer sit still.

"I had to walk outside and walk down the street," Patterson said. "Between Nebraska going ahead by [two] points, then the kick, I didn't even say anything. I got up, I was by myself with [my wife] Kelsey, we were watching the TV and I walked out in my bare feet, walked down the street. It was cold and I didn't even feel it. What else was I going to do?

"I had the same feeling when Utah scored at the end of the game a year ago. You get so close, but yet you're so far away."

Those feelings faded fast, though. They had to because Patterson held a practice on Sunday, a sure sign that he and his team have come too far and are too smart to take the Broncos lightly. A win at the Fiesta Bowl could land TCU as high as No. 2 when all's said and done.

"I consider them probably more of a formidable opponent than maybe some of the rest of the group might have been," Patterson said. "So I think they're very good."

Patterson, who voted his team No. 2 in the final coaches poll, two spots higher than he's voted them at any time this season, didn't mention Iowa or Cincinnati, TCU's other potential foes.

After all, Boise has lost just once in the past two seasons, and that came at the hands of the Frogs.

Cincinnati, which draws Florida in the Sugar Bowl, now has the inside track at No. 2 after passing TCU in the BCS poll to No. 3. Still, the opportunity remains for TCU to make more history.

"That's what I told them," Patterson said. "I said our whole deal is we're going to have to show the nation in this next bowl game that we belong, that we're one of the top two teams in the nation."

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at jeff.caplan@espn3.com.

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