FORT WORTH, Texas -- These are heady days indeed for TCU.
On Monday, the school officially decided to stop banging its head against the BCS brick wall and turned in its rebel handbook as a non-automatic qualifier. TCU, more valuable to a muscle-less football conference in Yankee territory than the BCS league in its own backyard, will join the big-boy ranks of college football in the Big East Conference in 2012.
On Sunday, the same day dynamite brought down the double-decker grandstand at old Amon G. Carter Stadium to make way for a $105 million renovation, the No. 3 Horned Frogs were tabbed as just the fifth outsider to gain entrance to the Rose Bowl, pitted against Big Ten power Wisconsin.
"On a day we blow up the stadium," boomed the voice of TCU play-by-play man Brian Estridge to a crowd of several thousand supporters who came to celebrate inside Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on Sunday night, "we blow up the BCS."
It's TCU's second consecutive trip to the BCS, tying it with Pac-10-bound Utah and Boise State for most appearances by a team from a non-AQ conference. The Broncos were positioned to make this historic run for the roses, but an implausible, post-Thanksgiving collapse at frigid Nevada doomed them and locked the Frogs into a postseason date no worse than a trip to the "Granddaddy of Them All."
There is no more prestigious bowl game. No greater pageantry than the Tournament of Roses Parade in the morning. No more majestic backdrop than the orange-lit San Gabriel Mountains as the western sun sets. No grander stadium than the historic Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
"This is a dream come true," said TCU's four-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton. "You grow up wanting to play in big games like this. You're always watching these games on TV and now you finally get an opportunity to play in a Rose Bowl, which not a lot of teams outside of the Pac-10 and Big Ten have been able to do."
Yes, a shot at the national title would have been the ultimate ender, and the Frogs had their hopes pinned on it. They did their part, sweeping the 12-game regular season for a second consecutive season. But, there is no argument coming out of Fort Worth.
No. 1 Auburn and No. 2 Oregon finished undefeated regular seasons as well -- Auburn going the extra distance with a 13th win in the SEC championship game -- and earned their way to the top two spots.
Gary Patterson and the Frogs won't cry injustice as some prognosticators and experts tried to do a year ago after Texas squeaked into the national title game on a controversial, last-second field goal in the Big 12 championship game.
This time, the Auburn Tigers would tell the Frogs to take their football to the Rose Bowl and be happy. The Tigers were cruelly left out of the BCS National Championship Game after going 13-0 in 2004.
"It would be lying if you didn't want to play for a national championship, but I knew the percentages weren't our way. We started last week preparing for Wisconsin," said Patterson, whose early coaching career guided him to three California stops -- UC Davis and Sonoma State up north, and Cal Lutheran about a half-hour's drive from the Rose Bowl. "We're excited about everything that's happening. To be an undefeated team, to be ranked by the fans and by the coaches to be No. 3 in the country is an honor, and what we're going to try to do is uphold it."
So the Rose Bowl it is. And what a matchup it should be -- the upstart, little-guy Frogs with the nation's No. 1 defense for a record third consecutive season against the tremendous tradition and pedigreed power attack of the 11-1, Big Ten co-champion Badgers.
If TCU and its fans were disappointed with last season's Fiesta Bowl pairing of fellow BCS-buster Boise State, this time around is the real McCoy, the major-conference team, big-bowl test this program craves in Patterson's 10th season.
Over the past six seasons, TCU hit the road and defeated the Adrian Peterson-led Oklahoma Sooners; dumped Stanford, Clemson and Virginia; and held Mike Leach's Texas Tech Red Raiders to a field goal. But, those wins all came in September. This one is in January and on a stage bigger than any TCU backer could have imagined as the Frogs wandered from the ashes of the Southwest Conference into the WAC, Conference USA and the Mountain West.
It will be a classic battle of TCU's speed-driven defense and versatile offense that dominated the Mountain West against No. 5 Wisconsin's intimidating size and strength. The Badgers' behemoth offensive line leads the nation's 12th-ranked rushing attack. A trio of rushers has gone for nearly 3,000 yards and 44 touchdowns.
But, there's also quarterback Scott Tolzien, who has thrown for 2,300 yards and 16 touchdowns. The offense has averaged about as many points in its past four games as the Badgers' basketball team.
Yet, somewhat surprisingly, it is the non-AQ Frogs installed as the early favorite over Wisconsin, proving that TCU's 24-1 record over the past two seasons has won over the Las Vegas oddsmakers, if not all of ESPN's analysts.
"All you had to do was listen to the BCS show [on ESPN]. Coming in we're the 'David and Goliath,'" Patterson said, quoting ESPN's Chris Fowler. "In some senses, I want to be known more as a Samson story. So, for me, it's time for us to grow our hair out and get ready to play."