Commentary

TCU ready for grand stage

Originally Published: December 6, 2009
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- As TCU football coach Gary Patterson watched Saturday night's Big 12 championship game with his wife Kelsey, he cracked a door in his home as Nebraska prepared to kick a go-ahead field goal against No. 3 Texas.

"We might be able to hear the whole city of Fort Worth cheer if they make this kick," Patterson told her.

[+] EnlargePoinsettia Bowl
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesThe Fiesta Bowl matchup of Boise State and TCU is a rematch from last season's Poinsettia Bowl.

But after Nebraska went ahead 12-10 with 1:44 to play at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, its ensuing kickoff went out of bounds. The Longhorns took over at their 40-yard line and quickly drove down the field. Once they reached Nebraska's 26-yard line with less than one minute left, Patterson couldn't take anymore.

He left his home near the TCU campus and walked down the street -- without shoes.

Patterson couldn't watch as Texas' Hunter Lawrence kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Longhorns a 13-12 victory. The victory ensured Texas of playing Alabama in the Jan. 7 Citi BCS National Championship Game.

The Longhorns' victory also kept undefeated TCU from experiencing its improbable dream of playing for its first national championship since 1938.

"I had to walk outside," Patterson said. "I didn't even say anything. 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? You get so close, but yet you're so far away."

Big East champion Cincinnati and WAC champion Boise State had to be feeling the same way on Saturday night. Both teams finished the season with unblemished records, but were left out of the BCS national title game.

The No. 3 Bearcats, who finished 13-0 by coming from behind to beat Pittsburgh 45-44 on Saturday, moved ahead of TCU in the final BCS standings. So even if Nebraska had beaten Texas, the Horned Frogs might have still been left out of the BCS Championship Game.

But Patterson sure would like to know how things might have turned out if the Cornhuskers had won.

Patterson said he knows this much after watching the Big 12 championship game: His Horned Frogs could play with the Longhorns. So much so that Patterson voted TCU No. 2 on his final ballot in the coaches' Top 25 poll. He put Alabama No. 1 and Texas No. 3.

"I believe we can play with them," Patterson said. "I didn't say we could go in and beat them, but this team could play with anybody."

The No. 4 Horned Frogs got their consolation prize Sunday with their first invitation to a BCS bowl game. TCU will play No. 6 Boise State in the Jan. 4 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Cincinnati will play defending BCS national champion Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on New Year's Day.

At least the Bearcats will get a chance to validate their remarkable season by playing one of the heavyweights from the six BCS conferences. The Broncos and Horned Frogs will play each other, which, of course, is what they did last season.

Truth be told, in a college football season drowning in mediocrity, TCU might prove more by beating Boise State -- or vice versa -- than defeating ACC champion Georgia Tech or Big Ten runner-up Iowa.

"I just think there is so much respect out there for TCU," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "People say they should be playing in the national championship game. Maybe they should."

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesGary Patterson voted his TCU team No. 2 in the coaches poll.

Even though the Fiesta Bowl is a rematch of last season's Poinsettia Bowl, in which TCU handed Boise State its only loss with a 17-16 victory, Patterson said he's excited about putting his team on college football's grand stage.

"We'll play anybody," Patterson said. "We wanted the highest matchup and this gives us the highest matchup, so here we go."

It might have been argued that no team was playing as well as TCU at season's end. The Horned Frogs beat Clemson 14-10 on the road, walloped BYU 38-7 on the road and routed defending Sugar Bowl champion Utah 55-28 at home.

TCU scored 38 points or more in each of its last seven games and allowed 12 points or fewer in six of the last seven. The Horned Frogs led the country in total defense, allowing 233.3 yards per game, and ranked No. 4 in total offense with 469.1 yards per contest.

"We're excited," defensive end Jerry Hughes said. "We've got a chance to be on the national stage. We're excited to be there and we can't wait to show the nation what TCU football is all about."

TCU fans looked excited on Sunday, too. About 3,500 fans packed Daniel-Meyer Coliseum to watch the BCS selection show. When images of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy were shown on the video screen above the basketball court, TCU fans booed. They even booed when Texas cheerleaders were shown.

"There was definitely some bad feelings going on [after the Big 12 championship game], but that's nothing we can control," TCU quarterback Andy Dalton said. "Texas found a way to win and that should be a good game."

Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker is gambling that his game will attract the country's imagination. He passed on taking Cincinnati and Iowa to select the champions from smaller conferences. It will be the first matchup of teams from non-BCS conferences in a BCS game.

"It is a rematch, but that's just how it worked," Dalton said. "We're in a BCS game. There's nothing to complain about. We're going out to make a statement, and hopefully we'll prove it on the field."

Patterson is selling his team on finishing No. 2 in the country, or even better yet, somehow finishing No. 1, in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll.

"We've been climbing," Patterson said. "I've been talking about a mountain ever since we began. We had a pyramid that said BCS game and then national championship, and that's what we're going to try to get accomplished. We fell a little bit short this year. Twelve years ago, people laughed when we said TCU could get to a BCS game. We're not going to take a back seat to anybody."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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