FORT WORTH, Texas -- Early in Tuesday's practice under an overcast sky, a fitting anthem blared.
"You know where you are?" screeched Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose. "You're in the jungle, baby."
Nevermind that the song's next line prophesied death for the newcomer. TCU is officially preparing to enter the Big 12.
Welcome to the jungle, indeed. Hope you brought a machete.
Preparations start now in the spring for Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs. As TCU transitions into an AQ conference, it must tackle the No. 1 criticism of any non-AQ team: depth.
"Twos and threes win championships. Everybody loses ones," Patterson said. "How do your twos and threes play?"
He's already undergoing his third conference move as he prepares for his 13th season as TCU head coach. The program moved from the WAC to Conference USA after Patterson's first season and from C-USA to the Mountain West in 2005.
Patterson already has every Big 12 game from 2011 for viewing on his home laptop.
"Instead of watching 'CSI: Miami,' I’m watching Oklahoma State," Patterson said. "That’s what you have to do. There’s a lot of preparation. It’s not like we’ve been playing these teams 7-8 years and you know what they do. You’ve got to start preparing right now."
The same is true on the recruiting trail, where TCU cracked the national top 25 with its latest class. The Horned Frogs could see those dividends multiply with its new home in one of college football's best conferences, where former Southwest Conference rivals Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas reside along with new foes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State from the former Big 8.
"We’ve always recruited to play in the Big 12, because we knew if we could recruit to play in the Big 12, we could have a chance to win in the Mountain West," Patterson said. "So, the only big difference is now we’re recruiting kids and people can’t say, 'Well, you’re not going to go to TCU because you’re not in the Big 12.' Well, now we are in the Big 12."
TCU looks ready to grow, and if prospects in the Metroplex don't want to come along? Well ...
"We're like the girl next door. If they're not careful in the Metroplex, pretty soon they are going to go three hours down the road," Patterson said. "They are going to grow up and we are going to grow up and be beautiful and they are going to wish they would have went out with us because somebody else is taking them to the prom."
Yeah, but it's not all boutonnieres and roses (or Rose Bowls). Those recruiting inroads come with a price: a schedule that's likely to feature five preseason top-20 teams.
TCU can have its new stadium, undergoing a $164 million upgrade, including six $15 million suites 20 rows from the field (it will seat 45,000 when it's finished before the 2012 season). It can have its new locker room with pristine wood lining each player's space along with a cushy seat to park after long practices.
That doesn't change the obvious truth.
"All that doesn’t make any difference if you don’t win," Patterson said. "So my goal is to grow up the best football team I can and win.
"That’s what we’re doing right now."
We'll find out in the fall if Patterson is succeeding, but he's got the pieces. His Horned Frogs return an all-conference quarterback in Casey Pachall and his top three targets, along with an outlandish three 700-yard rushers from last year's team.
The big job this spring is patching together a defense that took a step back in 2011. It fell on its face when three starters were arrested in a campus drug sting and have been consequently "separated" from the team until the legal process plays out.
"The thing I like best about this team is they competed hard but they still like each other," Patterson said. "But for two hours, you’ve gotta hate each other. You’ve gotta learn."
His team is learning, but the fall tests will be much more difficult.
Will TCU pass or fail?