Impossible dream? TCU goal shooting for BCS game

Updated: October 22, 2003, 6:51 PM ET

FORT WORTH, Texas -- At the pinnacle of a pyramid-shaped sign listing TCU's goals are the words national championship.

The next line on the sign posted prominently in the team meeting room has another goal the 15th-ranked Horned Frogs (7-0) know may be impossible even if they finish the regular season undefeated: Go to a BCS bowl.

"The only way you get anywhere is dream," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "What you do is set goals and let opportunity meet reality somewhere in between, and you do the best you can do."

TCU has a nine-game winning streak, matching No. 1 Oklahoma for the nation's longest, and has won 17 of its last 18 games. The Frogs are one of just five undefeated Division I-A teams.

Still, the reality is that if TCU continues winning there is no guarantee of becoming the first "outsider" to play in one of the four January games that make up the Bowl Championship Series.

Remember undefeated Marshall playing in the Motor City Bowl in 1999? That was a year after Tulane, which plays with TCU in Conference USA, had to settle for the Liberty Bowl with an 11-0 record.

Plus, the Frogs aren't the only team from outside the six BCS conferences still undefeated. No. 12 Northern Illinois (7-0) of the Mid-American Conference is also ranked higher in the BCS rankings at No. 10, four spots ahead of TCU.

"We just have to focus one game at a time, because if we lose one game, the BCS doesn't matter for us," said defensive end Bo Schobel, who has a school-record 10{ sacks this season. "If we make a mistake, we're out."

Just like three years ago.

The Frogs were 7-0 in coach Dennis Franchione's last season, their 12-game winning streak the longest in the nation. They were in the Top 10 in the AP poll for the first time since 1959, and were ninth in the BCS standings.

Then they lost 27-24 at San Jose State, a team they had beaten 42-0 the year before.

Cornerback Tyrone Sanders hasn't forgotten how he felt after that, and not because the then-freshman had the only two-interception game of his career.

"I really don't want to go through the feeling of losing the game and having to start all back over from the beginning," Sanders said.

The Frogs wound up 10-1 and in the Mobile Alabama Bowl, a long way from the BCS. And they lost 28-21 to Southern Mississippi.

TCU can accomplish most of the goals this season, such as another C-USA championship and sixth straight bowl game, without getting to the top two tiers of the pyramid. Several have already been reached and shaded in purple, the team's color.

"In a perfect scenario, a national championship would be possible, but we would have to play certain teams that we're not playing this year," Schobel said. "But I think the BCS bowl game is possible. We have a shot if we keep playing hard and keep going the things that we need to do."

Despite lingering injuries to quarterback Tye Gunn and top tailback Lonta Hobbs, and the loss of senior running back Ricky Madison (205 total yards in the opener) because of torn knee ligaments, the Frogs have continued to win.

Fourth-year junior Brandon Hassell had never thrown a pass in a game before winning three starts this season, and probably will start Saturday at Houston (5-2) after Gunn pulled a groin in Saturday's 27-24 win over UAB. Freshman Robert Merrill had three straight 100-yard games after Hobbs injured his right ankle and is the team's top rusher with 522 yards.

But the Frogs are doing just enough to win with a schedule that's only 94th-toughest among the 117 I-A teams. Four wins have come by three points and they've won only twice against teams with winning records. The biggest margin was 27-0 over winless Army.

Margin of victory isn't considered in the BCS rankings anymore, but the way teams win affects voters in the polls that the BCS takes into account. Without moving up significantly in those polls, the Frogs don't have a chance to get into the top six of the BCS for a guaranteed bowl spot.

"We understand that doesn't mean anything except if we keep winning," Patterson said. "So really we don't have anything to talk about until we get into December."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index