The recurring question surrounding the rising SMU Mustangs is whether June Jones can pull a Gary Patterson and take this thing to the house.
In other words, build the Ponies into the next great BCS buster.
"We're trying to copy them," Jones said. "That's what we're trying to do."
In reality, it was Gary Patterson at TCU who pulled a June Jones. The third-year Mustangs coach has already done this once, flipping a hapless Hawaii program that went winless in 1998 into a BCS buster in 2007.
Then Jones hopped off the island for the mainland and his next challenge on the long-suffering Hilltop.
Jones' upstart Mustangs (2-1) get to measure their progress Friday night at Gerald J. Ford Stadium against Patterson's No. 4 TCU (3-0) in a cross-town battle that is drawing interest not seen in decades. SMU has put additional tickets on sale as the game trends toward setting a stadium attendance record.
In a sign of both programs' progress, the game is being televised by ESPN, the second time this month that both teams have been featured on the network.
On display will be TCU senior quarterback Andy Dalton, the four-year starter who got the Frogs over the BCS hump and into the Fiesta Bowl last season. He has been solid again this season and is coming off a remarkable game in a 45-10 whipping of Baylor in which he connected on a school-record 91.3 percent of his passes (21-of-23).
For the Mustangs, sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron, a tall, pro-style quarterback who can sling it around, hopes to follow in Dalton's footsteps as a four-year starter and leave a BCS legacy for his successor.
In each resurrection project, be it Jones' Hawaii and SMU teams or Patterson's Frogs, a significant factor is consistency under center. After his first season at Hawaii, Jones featured two prolific quarterbacks over seven of the next eight seasons in Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan.
Chang became the NCAA's all-time leader in passing yards and led Hawaii to three bowl games. Brennan further elevated the program, guiding the 2007 squad to the Sugar Bowl in his third year as the starter and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
That's the lineage Padron follows in Jones' run-and-shoot offense.
"I'm going to work as hard as I can to be a four-year starter," said Padron, who operated a spread offense at Southlake (Texas) Carroll High School. "That's a goal I've had since I came here. Hopefully, at the time I'm leaving, we'll be finishing up a BCS bowl and taking this program to new heights."
Padron's Mustangs are still in the early stages of the turnaround compared to the Frogs team Dalton took over. Patterson was already six seasons into the TCU transformation then, and that's reflected in the overall recruiting and talent surrounding Dalton.
Jones has upgraded the SMU roster, but he admits he's at least 1 1/2 classes away from getting up to speed. And that's reflected in the Frogs being 18-point favorites.
"Gary's done a great job of surrounding himself with athletes, players that he has put into spots that can play football," Jones said. "Running backs are playing defensive end, quarterbacks are playing different spots, but you've got to have one of those quarterbacks under center, and he has one."
Dalton might not set all-time NCAA records like Chang or barge his way onto the Heisman ballot like Brennan, but the TCU passer isn't asked to throw it all over the yard, either. All Dalton has done is win. He is the Frogs' all-time wins leader and he has either set or is challenging numerous other school records.
He will go down as the first quarterback to lead TCU to a BCS game, accomplishing it last season after an undefeated regular campaign. He has the Frogs poised to do it again this season. It's a blueprint Padron said he has followed closely.
"When a quarterback is putting us in the right call and he's throwing the ball in the right place and there's a confidence level, then everybody else plays better," Patterson said. "I say this all the time: A younger quarterback asks in the huddle, and an older quarterback demands. You look at any place where they win ballgames, I guarantee you have a quarterback, as a general rule, that is like that."
Padron admits that after just eight career starts, he is still a young quarterback. He took over as the starter last season when an injury sidelined Bo Levi Mitchell. The 6-4 Padron went on to throw for more than 1,900 yards in seven appearances. He led SMU to a bowl game for the first time since 1984 and walked away as the Hawaii Bowl MVP, throwing for a bowl-record 460 yards on 32-of-41 passing.
"The game is still fast for me. I'm learning each week," Padron said. "I'm still young. It's going to be a learning process every single week. As I continue to grow up and mature, it's going to slow down for me."
Over the offseason, Padron beefed up from 200 pounds to about 217. He said the extra muscle has added more zip to his passes and, more important, has helped him break tackles, evident during several scrambles last week against Washington State. While the offense hasn't clicked right away, Jones didn't hesitate in calling Padron his guy for the long haul.
That wasn't the case even as the team boarded the plane for its momentous bowl game. Jones had a commitment from highly rated quarterback Stephen Kaiser out of St. Louis, and Jones wouldn't rule out Mitchell returning to make a run. Mitchell has since transferred, and the plan is to redshirt Kaiser.
"He's done everything," Jones said of Padron. "He wants to be great. He studies it; he works at it. He has all the things inside of him that the great ones have."
As a redshirt freshman in 2006, Dalton had no commitment that he would be the next starter, let alone become a four-year record-setter. Patterson recruited Rhett Bomar for a time after he left Oklahoma as well as Jevan Snead when he chose to leave Texas.
Who knows what would have happened if Patterson had not ended his pursuit of Bomar or if Snead had picked the Frogs instead of Ole Miss. In the end, Dalton -- steady, consistent and cool under pressure -- was the right choice.
Padron, who met Dalton after last season at an awards banquet in Ohio, believes he will be, too.