FORT WORTH, Texas -- On some days last season, Gary Patterson had to look down at his depth chart and cue up his own version of the Talking Heads classic, "Once in a Lifetime."
You may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?" ...
And you may tell yourself, "This is not my talented stable of running backs"
And you may tell yourself, "This is not my accurate, experienced QB"
It was a rough season for the Frogs in purple, especially for a coach like Patterson who had won fewer than seven games in a season just once since 2002, his second season as the full-time head man in Fort Worth. TCU struggled through more injuries than any team in the Big 12 last season, and lost six games, capped by a heartbreaker in a bowl game it dominated for more than three quarters.
It won just seven games, but a funny thing happened the end of a season that felt exhausting from a weekly grind in a new Big 12 the Frogs had longed for since being left outside of major conference football following the breakup of the Southwest Conference in the mid-90s.
"I think we gained a lot more respect fan-wise from being 7-5 than a being 11-2 beating Boise State at Boise State, which to me is an unbelievable win," Patterson told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "To me, that speaks volumes to where we’re at and I think our kids should to understand that, what we’re doing."
How'd that happen? People took notice of the Frogs' struggles off the field and saw they were still competitive on the field.
"Everybody was wondering how we could handle things on a week to week basis, and I thought we, except for one half of football against Oklahoma State, we felt like we were in every ball game that you had," Patterson said.
Four players were kicked off the team following a campus drug sting in January, including star linebacker Tanner Brock and a pair of other likely starters.
The Frogs left 2011 planning on having three backs in 2012 who ran for at least 700 yards, but Ed Wesley left the team after spring practice and Waymon James missed the final 11 games after injuring his knee in the Frogs' Big 12 opener against Kansas in Week 2.
Quarterback Casey Pachall, then the nation's leader in passer rating, left the team less than three weeks later to seek inpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in the wake of a DUI arrest.
Defensive end Ross Forrest, who had six tackles for loss, suffered a shoulder injury in fall camp and fellow end Stansly Maponga battled an ankle and foot injury for much of the season, missing two games.
Matthew Tucker, the lone running back left with major experience, played through an ankle injury of his own, missing just one game.
Still, the Frogs battled on, losing a three-overtime heartbreaker to Texas Tech and losing to Big 12 co-champion Oklahoma after a possible game-winning touchdown pass was batted down as time expired to help the Sooners clinch their eighth title since 2000.
"I’ve been through 7-5 seasons before, and a couple plays here or there and, now you could have just as easily been 5-7, but you could have won 9 or 10, too, so how do you make up the little things?"
That's the challenge ahead for the Frogs, who look fit to contend for a Big 12 title in 2013 behind a defense that finished No. 1 in the league in total defense despite injuries and being forced to rely on more freshmen than ever before under Patterson. Pachall's back, too, battling to regain his job from Trevone Boykin.
Being competitive isn't good enough anymore. TCU's not out for respect anymore. It's time to start hunting trophies, preferably of the crystal bowl variety with the Big 12 logo etched on it.
"We’re not into moral victories. We’ve played well against those teams in the past, the key is to be able to recruit depth," Patterson said. "We’ve got to keep getting better at every position."
Year 1 was certainly one of the most difficult for Patterson, who took over the TCU job back in 2000. It won't get much easier in a deep Big 12 in 2013, but this time around, the Frogs would love it if the offseason isn't littered with personnel losses.
"You’ve got to come with it every week in our league," Patterson said. "As far as I’m concerned, you wouldn’t want any different."