FORT WORTH, Texas -- Last year, no Big 12 team faced a top-25 opponent in nonconference play for the first month of the season.
When all 30 Big 12 nonconference games were finished, just six came against teams from major conferences, excluding Oklahoma's October date with Notre Dame.
This season, the Big 12's nonconference slate looks a whole lot different, and no team has stepped up its scheduling game as much as TCU. The Horned Frogs will play one of the premier contests of the season's opening weekend when they face LSU, a team that played for a national title just two years ago and has won two BCS titles since 2003.
They'll only have to take a short bus ride about 15 minutes down I-30 to Cowboys Stadium to do it, but the top-notch venue will provide the Frogs a big stage to kick off their second season in the Big 12.
"You’re always looking for a measuring-stick game," coach Gary Patterson told ESPN.com in a recent interview.
LSU will certainly provide that. Wondering if TCU is ready or not? The Tigers will provide the answer with 60 minutes of physical play under the lights at JerryWorld.
"Do you have a better chance of losing that game than maybe the Grambling game last year? Yes, but you also ... your kids get ready as long as you don’t get beat up or lose players; you play well, you gain and you played against great competition," Patterson said. "You’re not going to play against much better than that level of athlete."
For as much talk as you hear with these games about big early-season showdowns wrecking BCS title hopes (LSU did that exact thing to Oregon back in 2011, in the same stadium), Patterson seems to be spending a whole lot more attention staring at the other side of the equation: What TCU has to gain.
"If you can win it, then it ricochets you and skyrockets you in the rankings and gets you closer to all the things you’re trying to do, and that’s what we’re trying to get done," Patterson said, "plus financially, it’s a great deal for the university."
The SportsBusiness Journal reported that LSU earned $3.5 million for its game against the Ducks in 2011. TCU is no stranger to this kind of stage, either. It earned $1 million for playing Oregon State in Cowboys Stadium in 2010. The Frogs and Tigers signed up to play a home-and-home series all the way back in 2006, but last fall switched up plans and decided to play a single game at a neutral site.
TCU will get its measuring stick for sure, though as a Big 12 member these days, it's not quite as needed. It'll also collect a hefty paycheck. If it wins, though? It'll collect more respect than any paycheck can buy.
"You’ve got to be able to step out and do those kinds of things once in awhile and give yourself so you know as a football team where you’re at and what you’re doing," Patterson said. "I think it helps all of us."