Big 12: Trevone Boykin
Now, in our weekly Big 12 poll, we're looking back at the most memorable individual offensive performances of the season.
Samaje Perine's record-breaking performance against Kansas has to top the list. After all, the Oklahoma true freshman set an FBS game rushing record with 427 yards.
But what about some of the other memorable performances of 2014?
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty had some terrific showings in his final college season. But his magical comeback against TCU on Oct. 11 was something special. Petty threw for 510 yards and six touchdowns, while leading the Bears to 24 unanswered fourth-quarter points, catapulting Baylor to an improbable 61-58 win.
Petty, however, wasn't the only quarterback to deliver a notable performance.
On Oct. 25, TCU's Trevone Boykin threw for 433 yards and a school-record seven touchdown passes against Texas Tech. Behind Boykin, the Horned Frogs also scored a Big 12 conference-game-record 82 points in their 55-point annihilation of the Red Raiders.
While the showing against TCU was one they'd just as soon forget, the Red Raiders also had a memorable performance of their own in a valiant defeat. In Texas Tech's regular-season finale on Nov. 29 vs. Baylor, quarterback Patrick Mahomes set a Big 12 freshman record with 598 yards on 30 of 56 passing. He also tossed six touchdowns, including a 40-yarder to Bradley Marquez with 1:42 left that erased a 25-point second half deficit and handed Tech a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion. The try failed, but Mahomes was still magnificent.
West Virginia wideout Kevin White was magnificent all year, as he opened the season with seven straight 100-yard receiving games. But the highlight of that impressive run came when he torched Baylor for 132 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 41-27 upset victory over the then-fourth-ranked Bears.
Like White, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett put up monster receiving numbers. Like White, it wasn't easy to single out one game. But Lockett's second half in the Valero Alamo Bowl against UCLA was downright dominant. In the second half alone, Lockett had 10 receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns, as K-State almost came all the way back from a 31-6 halftime deficit before losing 40-35. It was a memorable performance for a memorable career.
Now we put the question to you: Of these five, who had the most memorable performance of 2014? Let us know by voting in this week's Big 12 poll.
Our countdown concludes below with Nos. 1-5:
1. Trevone Boykin, TCU (preseason rank: NR): Boykin put together one of the most stunning one-year turnarounds in Big 12 history. After finishing 2013 as a wide receiver, Boykin transformed himself into one of the top quarterbacks in the country in 2014. He threw for more than 3,900 yards and totaled 41 touchdowns while leading TCU to a 12-1 record. Boykin also finished fourth in the Heisman voting and figures to enter 2015 on the short list of Heisman favorites, especially with nine other offensive starters back for the Horned Frogs.
2. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (2): Lockett was absolutely tremendous in his final season in a K-State uniform. He topped the Big 12 with 1,515 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns while also leading the country in punt returns. Lockett finished with a flurry too, as he racked up 57 receptions and seven touchdowns in K-State’s final five games to pass his father, Kevin, as K-State’s all-time leading receiver.
3. Bryce Petty, Baylor (1): A back injury in the opener prevented Petty from becoming a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy. But even though his numbers were slightly down from his junior season, Petty was still lethal in his second year operating the Baylor offense. He finished sixth in the country with 321 passing yards per game to go with 29 touchdown passes. Petty was especially magical in Baylor’s stunning, come-from-behind win over TCU, in which he threw 510 yards and six touchdowns to erase TCU’s 21-point fourth-quarter lead. Petty finished his Baylor career by setting a Cotton Bowl Classic record with a career-high 550 yards passing against Michigan State.
4. Malcom Brown, Texas (15): Brown was the tone-setter for Texas’ stout defense and one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the country. With 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, Brown became the first defensive tackle to lead the Longhorns in both categories since Lombardi Award winner Tony Degrate in 1984. As a result, Brown was a consensus first-team All-American and finalist for the Outland (best interior lineman) and Nagurski (top defensive player) awards. Brown, who is married with children, is leaving Texas early for the NFL draft, where Mel Kiper Jr. projects him to be a first-round pick.
5. Paul Dawson, TCU (NR): Dawson, who was a former high school receiver, spearheaded the TCU defense with a speculator senior season. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year teamed with Marcus Mallet to give the Horned Frogs the best linebacker tandem in the Big 12 and one of the finest in the country. Dawson led the conference with 136 tackles and tied for third in the league with four interceptions. One of those picks resulted in a game-winning touchdown return in the fourth quarter of TCU’s 37-33 win over Oklahoma. All year, Dawson was the heart and soul of a Horned Frogs unit that led the Big 12 in both total defense and scoring defense.
We conclude our Big 12 team-by-team season report card series with TCU:
The Frogs had it all: a brand new Air Raid-inspired scheme; a quarterback in Trevone Boykin who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting and instantly began playing at an elite level; a much-improved line; a loaded supply of skill talent all over the field; and the No. 2 scoring offense and No. 5 total offense in the country that scored a Big 12-best 47 points per game in conference play. It’s incredible how explosive these Frogs became on offense and how effectively they built up and maintained that level of play.
A top-five unit nationally in measures that matter: three-and-outs, yards per play, turnovers, third-down defense and red-zone defense. With star talent at every level, led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Paul Dawson and defensive backs Kevin White and Chris Hackett, the Horned Frogs ranked No. 8 in scoring defense by holding seven opponents to 14 points or fewer. Their pass defense was slightly more generous but still fourth best in the Big 12. You can get away with that when your team grabs 40 takeaways, second most in FBS.
Special teams: B+
TCU had an All-Big 12 placekicker in Jaden Oberkrom, a great kick returner (when healthy) in B.J. Catalon and a punt returner in Cameron Echols-Luper who probably won TCU a game with his TD at Kansas. Even punter Ethan Perry did a nice job of pinning punts inside the 20 and 10.
The honors don’t lie. Gary Patterson has already racked up at least nine national Coach of the Year awards this offseason. He did a masterful job managing this team, especially once the expectations ratcheted up. His hiring of co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie and their ability to apply and install their vision proved brilliant. Patterson's ability to rally this team after the Baylor loss and win out was special. From staffing to scheme to preparation to week-by-week improvement and survival, this was a master class in coaching.
TCU enjoyed a dream season, simple as that. Had the Frogs been able to hold onto their fourth-quarter lead in Waco, they would’ve made the College Football Playoff. Instead, they blasted No. 9 Ole Miss in the Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl and more than proved their legitimacy. This was one of the great surprise turnarounds in college football, and the future looks bright.
Possibly next year.
Very possibly next year.
The Horned Frogs went 12-1 this past season, yet got left out of the playoff party after falling from third to sixth in the only playoff selection committee ballot that actually counted.
But fresh off a 42-3 shellacking of Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and armed with 10 returning offensive starters, the Horned Frogs debuted at No. 1 in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2015.
Best of luck to the playoff committee on denying the Frogs again.
“People are going to say you are [No. 1], but now you have to go prove you are,” TCU coach Gary Patterson told ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach. “You've got to go prove it."
The Frogs are equipped to do just that in what figures to be the most anticipated season in TCU history. And coming off arguably the greatest one-year turnaround by a single player in Big 12 history, Trevone Boykin is the biggest reason for that anticipation.
After finishing 2013 as a wide receiver, Boykin proved to be a natural at quarterback in the Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie no-huddle spread attack. He threw for 3,901 yards and totaled 41 touchdowns, and he carved up virtually every defense he faced, including the vaunted Ole Miss “Landsharks” in the Peach Bowl. And after finishing fourth in the Heisman voting, Boykin could be even more dynamic in 2015 with a year of experience operating the spread attack under his belt.
“As far as the playoff situation, it would have been a blessing for our team to have been in it,” Boykin said. “Hopefully next year we can be one of those top four teams.”
But if the Horned Frogs get there, it won’t be because of Boykin alone. TCU basically brings back its entire receiving corps, too, including the terrifying triplet of Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee and Deante’ Gray, who combined for three touchdown receptions and a touchdown pass in the Peach Bowl. Boykin will have Aaron Green behind him at running back again, too. After a concussion sidelined B.J. Catalon for the final five games, the running game didn't miss a beat with Green, who finished within a hair of passing the 1,000-yard rushing barrier. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry as the starter.
Throw in an offensive line that returns four starters after paving the way for the nation’s second-highest scoring attack, and the Horned Frogs have no holes on paper offensively headed into 2015.
“We're going to have to be a better football team next year to be able to replace what we did this year, and they're going to have to decide if they want to do that,” Patterson said. “There's a lot of good leaders on this football team, and I think there's an opportunity for them to get that done.”
Defensively, Patterson has some retooling to do to meet that opportunity. Linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet are gone after anchoring the defense this past season. All-Big 12 safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett and defensive tackle Chucky Hunter are departing, too.
Patterson’s defenses, however, have a long, strong track record of playing competency, finishing first, second and first in the Big 12 in total defense over three years in the league. TCU also could have the inside track to landing 5-star tackle Daylon Mack, who has the talent to make an immediate impact along the defensive line.
Of course, unlike this past year, the Horned Frogs will firmly be on the selection committee’s radar to begin the season, too. Still, TCU will have to earn its way into the playoff. The Horned Frogs have to travel to Minnesota (No. 24 in the Way-Too-Early Top 25) early in the year. Road tilts to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma loom, as well.
But this time around, the Horned Frogs get Baylor, which opened at No. 3 in the Way-Too-Early poll, in Fort Worth.
Win that Black Friday showdown, and TCU could be in the playoff instead of watching it.
While proving itself worthy of this No. 1 ranking along the way.
1. TCU could've won the College Football Playoff. That's not a guarantee, an overreaction or some crazy hot take. The Horned Frogs team we saw Wednesday would've given Alabama all it could handle and more in New Orleans. The potent cocktail of aggression, speed and impeccable preparation put on display against the hapless Rebs proved TCU can play with anybody. Gary Patterson's squad can beat anybody, too, when they're clicking like this. The Tide and their CFP counterparts should breathe a sigh of relief. This TCU team is scary dangerous and seemed capable of pulling off a playoff stunner.
2. Frogs defense went for the kill. Who had the No. 1 scoring defense in the country during the regular season? Ole Miss, of course. But the better D won this game, and there's really no question about that. Forcing Bo Wallace to self-destruct right away made this game a cakewalk, and TCU's relentlessness against the run (9 yards allowed) made the Rebels even more miserable. James McFarland's zero-yard pick-six was the unforgettable highlight of the afternoon, but so many other players came up big as well. Horned Frog defenders took over, played fast and saved their best for last.
3. If you thought this was fun, just wait. Trevone Boykin and nearly every member of this offense are coming back for 2015. The only seniors departing? Left tackle Tayo Fabuluje, blocking tight end Cliff Murphy and valued backups David Porter and Matt Joeckel. That's it and that's all. TCU's offense will have all the same firepower, the momentum of an eight-game win streak and another full offseason to take the Air Raid to the next level. With all the buzz this bowl showing elicited, it's easy to see why TCU could go into 2015 as one of the most-hyped teams in the country.
ATLANTA -- One team played as if it had something to prove. The other played as if it had something better to do.
And, in the end, motivation seemed to be the difference as the playoff-snubbed TCU Horned Frogs demolished the Ole Miss Rebels 42-3 Wednesday in Atlanta to win the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
It was over when: When Bad Bo showed up, there wasn’t much Ole Miss could do about it. Bo Wallace, who became known for his streaky play during his three seasons as Ole Miss’ starting quarterback, finished his career on a sour note. The senior was sacked three times and threw three interceptions in the first half alone, one of which resulted in a touchdown. TCU jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead and never looked back.
Game ball goes to: If you’re looking for an early 2015 Heisman Trophy favorite, look no further than Trevone Boykin. TCU’s star quarterback was in peak form against Ole Miss, throwing for three touchdowns and 188 yards against a defense that ranked 12th in the country entering the day. From this pass to this fake toss, Boykin showed there wasn’t much he couldn’t do. The junior ranked fourth in the Heisman balloting this season. But if he continues his upward trajectory into his senior season, it’s difficult to imagine he won’t be in New York next year.
How the game was won: Wallace couldn’t keep the football. The Rebels' defense was out of sorts. And just before the mercy of halftime, Ole Miss lost arguably its best player, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, to a fractured fibula. For TCU, the game was won by halftime. Thanks to a stingy defense and an explosive offense, the Horned Frogs turned around the Big 12’s bowl season blues in a major way.
Stat of the game: The turnovers were enough of a statement, but TCU’s defense was much more than a happy beneficiary of Wallace’s many errors in judgment. No, the Horned Frogs were sound throughout, stuffing Ole Miss at the point of attack. Though five first-half sacks spoke volumes about the pressure TCU generated, it was its total defense that was most impressive, limiting the Rebs to 59 total yards of offense in the first half and 129 in the entire game.
Best play: How in the world? ... Yeah, Kolby Listenbee did catch that pass. Somehow, TCU's junior wideout went up for the jump ball from Boykin and snatched it away from both Ole Miss defensive backs, Mike Hilton and Trae Elston. Listenbee hauled in the pass and fell on his back, staying inbounds for the spectacular 35-yard touchdown reception.
Still, both programs have the consolation of playing in a big-time bowl matchup in Atlanta. And a win in the Peach Bowl would give the Horned Frogs or Rebels plenty of momentum going into 2015.
SEC reporter Alex Scarborough and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter break down this New Year's Eve showdown:
How Ole Miss can control the game: Let's face it, TCU hasn't seen a defense quite like Ole Miss.' Boykin probably doesn't know what a Landshark is. He'll find out in the SEC-friendly waters of Atlanta. The last time Ole Miss was there, its secondary came up with four interceptions against Boise State. To stop Boykin and stay in control of the game, the Rebels will need a similar output from Senquez Golson, Cody Prewitt and Co. And it all starts up front. If Robert Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson are able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and get into the face of Boykin, the entire outlook changes. A turnover here or there and Ole Miss will be in good shape. -- Scarborough
TCU’s X-factor: TCU’s safeties notoriously have a nose for the ball. Free safety Chris Hackett led the Big 12 in interceptions this season. Strong safety Sam Carter was second in the league last season in interceptions. Both are All-Big 12 performers. And both will be reading Wallace’s eyes to see if they can produce that critical game-changing defensive play. -- Trotter
Ole Miss' X-factor: All the talk is going to be about TCU's high-flying offense versus Ole Miss' Landshark defense, and rightfully so. But don't sleep on Wallace and the Rebels' offense, which has plenty of firepower. Despite the loss of Laquon Treadwell, Wallace isn't without big-time targets at receiver. The one to pay the most attention to is Cody Core. If you watched Ole Miss' season-opener against Boise State, you should recognize the 6-foot-3 junior. He's the one who went off for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the regular season with 530 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and could be Wallace's top target close to the end zone. -- Scarborough
What a win would mean for the Horned Frogs: For obvious reasons, TCU was disappointed it did not qualify for the inaugural College Football Playoff. But with a win against Ole Miss, that disappointment will quickly transform into anticipation for 2015. With Boykin and nine other starters back offensively, the Horned Frogs will open next season on the short list of viable national title contenders. A bowl win against a quality opponent like Ole Miss would give the Horned Frogs momentum, too, heading into a season that could be even more special than the 2014 one was. -- Trotter
What a win would mean for the Rebels: The whole season could have gone downhill after that heartbreaking loss to Auburn on Nov. 1. And for a moment it did. Without much hope of reaching the playoff and without its best player, Treadwell, Ole Miss was dominated in a 3-0 loss to Arkansas. But something changed the following week. Showing some pride with the Egg Bowl at stake, the Rebels beat then-No. 4 Mississippi State by 14 points. With another win, Ole Miss would make history with the first 10-win season since 2003. -- Scarborough
1. Playoff motivation: TCU should feel snubbed by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Being dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 a day after demolishing Iowa State was almost unexplainable. Seeing Florida State and Ohio State in the final four instead should burn up the Horned Frogs. It should make them angry and motivated to beat Ole Miss. Winning against a top SEC program in a New Year’s Six bowl would provide the message they surely want to send: We should have been in. It’s a cliché sentiment, “Us against the world,” but don’t discount its value. When you have roughly a month off between games, something has to fuel you.
2. Bo’s final ride: Forget Good Bo vs. Bad Bo. What Bo Wallace has done as Ole Miss’ quarterback the past three seasons might not be beyond reproach, but it’s certainly close. That’s at least what the stats tell us. The long-haired gunslinger transferred from a junior college in 2012 and immediately threw for 2,994 yards. In the two seasons since, he has averaged 3,216 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has won a total of 24 games, and with No. 25 he would pass former Ole Miss great Eli Manning for the most in school history. You can bicker with the interceptions and other mistakes, but in his final game as a Rebel it might be time to set aside hurt feelings and appreciate all Wallace has accomplished.
3. A clash of qualities: Lest we forget there’s an actual game to be played, there’s the not-so-small matter of TCU’s high-powered offense going up against a more than worthy opponent in the Ole Miss D. The Horned Frogs, under the direction of quarterback Trevone Boykin, have flourished, ranking fourth in the country in total offense. With its version of the spread/hurry-up, no-huddle, it has scored more than 40 points in a game eight times this season. Meanwhile, Ole Miss’ Landshark defense ranks 13th nationally and has surrendered 20 points or less 10 times this season. As they say, something’s got to give. If Ole Miss holds down the Horned Frogs, it will be an indictment of Big 12 defenses. If TCU lights up the Rebs, it will be an indictment on the long-standing narrative that the SEC is the home to the best defenses in college football.
"People are shocked Gary Patterson can have an offensive team," he joked. "'Have you lost your mind? What are you doing?' I like to win. It’s a very simple situation."
His not-so-simple New Year’s resolution to develop a thrilling spread offense set TCU on course for a transformative journey that will end with a New Year’s Eve bowl.
Patterson had exactly nine months to rethink what winning the Big 12 required. After 15 years in Fort Worth -- and two tough ones in the Big 12 -- he had to reimagine TCU football.
He had realized this in November. After a last-second loss to Kansas State guaranteed TCU would not go bowling, Patterson warned his staff that change was imminent.
"But it wasn’t just 'let’s go get an offense,'" Patterson said. "I’m big on chemistry. It was about guys that would fit the staff, guys that could recruit the Metroplex and the state of Texas and were respected."
His search ended up being easy. By Dec. 3, word of Doug Meacham leaving Houston for TCU had already leaked. Before that addition became official on Dec. 12, Patterson met with AD Chris Del Conte and laid out his plan.
"I was probably the most proud of that, because football coaches are creatures of habit," Del Conte said. "He said he had to evolve and change how we go about it. I was like, 'Wow. OK.'"
Meacham told Patterson the man he trusted most to coach quarterbacks was Sonny Cumbie. Until this season their paths had crossed only on the recruiting trail. West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen deserves some credit for the pairing -- he’s the one who first introduced Meacham to Cumbie.
By Dec. 18, Patterson had both on board. By April 5, he was nervous. The Air Raid, while incredibly simple in terms of its playbook, isn’t easily taught in less than a hundred days. TCU’s vanilla spring game hinted at the difficulty.
"We weren’t very good on offense at the end of spring," Patterson says bluntly.
Too many balls on the turf, too many interceptions, too many incorrect routes. Teaching the system is largely a mental challenge that requires constant repetition. Meacham and Cumbie could only teach Trevone Boykin so much in 15 practices. Plus, it didn’t help that TCU's scholarship backs were all banged up.
"Some days, you’d just say, "We’re bad,'" Patterson recalled. "Oh yeah, there was a lot of concern. But you went down a path. This is the path."
Quarterback Matt Joeckel understood the path. Two weeks after TCU’s spring game, the Texas A&M transfer picked the Horned Frogs. His arrival was supposed to spell trouble for Boykin, maybe even prompt a move to receiver. Instead, the two bonded and competed.
Linebacker Marcus Mallet says he saw this team’s rebound coming by June. The buy-in was intense and pervasive. Joeckel was an unsung hero, teaching his new teammates the offensive system in workouts and 7-on-7 at a time when coaches were required to be hands-off.
By August, not even the departure of Devonte Fields could shake TCU players’ faith. Three of their most talented and troubled peers -- Fields, Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown -- were dismissed during the offseason. Their absence never proved to be an issue.
But the quarterback conundrum remained. TCU’s eventual Heisman Trophy candidate separated himself in scrimmages with his accuracy. Boykin had been a headache to defend in practices for years. He had yet to prove enough on Saturdays. Battling with Joeckel upped his game to another level.
"That’s one of the reasons why Boykin is where he is now," receiver David Porter said. "He had pressure on him, and he had to be on his p's and q's."
By the second scrimmage, Patterson knew. TCU’s offense started shredding his defense in the red zone. The sloppy project was turning into a slick, speedy operation just in time.
"Two weeks into fall camp, oh my god, they got it," Del Conte said. "They looked really good."
How good? Just ask Jason Verrett. TCU’s Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year and first-round pick a year ago watched this season’s Kansas State game in awe from the sideline. He didn’t expect this.
"If we had this offense last year, I don’t think a team would’ve beaten us," Verrett said. "That’s just the truth."
Chucky Hunter warned him, though. Verrett didn’t believe the Frogs' defensive tackle when he called during two-a-days in August.
"All he kept saying was, 'Bro, our offense is real as s---.'"
Hunter called Verrett again the week of the Oklahoma game and predicted a Big 12 title. Patterson wasn’t thinking nearly that big. Heck, he just wanted to win six. An eight- or nine-win season to set up a 2015 breakthrough? Even better.
On Wednesday in Atlanta, TCU plays for its 12th win. On Jan. 1, another offseason begins in Fort Worth. This one should be a bit easier.
"We’re built for success now," Del Conte said. "It’s fantastic. It’s no flash in the pan. We’re in this for the long haul."
Brick by brick, Gary Patterson knows how to build a football program.
Not just figuratively, either.
Long before taking TCU to the cusp of the inaugural College Football Playoff this season, Patterson forged a coaching career working his way up through a series of small schools.
That included a lot of coaching. And a little construction work.
At Tennessee Tech, it was painting the walls of the football offices. At Sonoma State, it was hammering nails into the stadium's renovated press box. And at Utah State -- Patterson's first Division I job that came a full decade after he began coaching -- it was laying carpet for a new locker room.
Patterson put the tools down once he arrived at TCU 16 years ago. But every remote stop along the way equipped him with what he needed to raise TCU into a national power.
"It's one of those things -- not everybody has to pay his dues or work from the ground up," said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, Patterson's closest friend in the profession. "But Gary had to work for everything he got, and his players reflect that. That's why his teams are so tough."
On New Year's Eve, TCU will meet Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, a consolation prize for an 11-1 season that came oh-so close to a playoff berth. The Horned Frogs couldn't hold on to a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter at Baylor, which ultimately proved to be the difference in missing the playoff.
Still, the season was one more brick in the building of a program whose next rung could be a national championship.
"We're not there yet," said Patterson, who this week was voted The Associated Press' college football coach of the year, joining Alabama's Nick Saban as the only two-time winner.
"But we're closer than we were."
In many ways, the Horned Frogs' gradual ascension since the turn of the millennium has emulated the path of their coach.
Patterson grew up in Rozel, Kansas, which claimed a population of 156 in the latest census. Patterson learned the value of hard work in Rozel, spending long days helping his father level lands for the local farmers.
"Back there, everyone knows how to work hard," Patterson said. "You work Sundays in coaching, and you worked Sundays there."
That value would serve Patterson -- and ultimately TCU -- well later in life.
After high school and junior college, Patterson walked on at Kansas State. But his calling would be coaching, not playing. He got his first gig at Tennessee Tech making just a few hundred dollars a month. Then he went to UC Davis, which couldn't afford to send him a paycheck until after the season. Patterson also grinded out a living coaching at Cal Lutheran, Pittsburgh State and Sonoma State.
But he wasn't just a defensive assistant at those stops. He was a strength coach. An academic adviser. A financial aid consultant. And when the time called for it, he picked up a hammer or a saw and helped build whatever those programs needed.
"You have to wear a lot of hats at those places," Patterson said. "You always were learning something different."
That paid off when TCU looked to replace Dennis Franchione, who bolted for Alabama after the 2000 season. As Franchione's defensive coordinator, Patterson had whipped the Horned Frogs into the nation's top defense. But that alone wasn't what landed Patterson the head-coaching job.
William Koehler, the school's provost, had begun working out in the football weight room. There, he noticed how Patterson took charge of football academics. He saw Patterson head the strength and conditioning program. He witnessed Patterson be the disciplinarian. As other power brokers sought a splashy hire, Koehler and prominent booster Dick Lowe pushed for Patterson.
"Gary did everything except call the offense and talk to the media," Lowe said. "And he had this work ethic that was off the scale."
As head coach, Patterson's work ethic has remained firm, from the big items to the small.
He tirelessly spearheaded the fundraising effort that led to a series of state-of-the-art facility upgrades, including a $164 million renovation of Amon G. Carter Stadium in 2012. From 2008-11, TCU also won 47 games, which prompted the Big 12 to invite the Horned Frogs after a second round of realignment struck the conference.
"Gary has meant everything to TCU," said Victor J. Boschini Jr., the school's chancellor. "He is the school, and the school is him."
The tiny details, however, have stuck with Memphis head coach Justin Fuente, previously the Horned Frogs' offensive coordinator. That includes watching Patterson pick up trash anytime he spotted it in the halls.
"I watched Gary do that 400 times when I was there," said Fuente, who this season led the Tigers to their first conference title in more than 40 years. "I find myself now doing the same thing. But a lot of what we're trying to do [at Memphis] is modeled after him."
That includes finding recruits who might not have five recruiting stars but who share Patterson's inherent work ethic. In 2007, Jerry Hughes arrived at TCU with little fanfare as a running back. Patterson immediately turned Hughes into a defensive end. And before he left, Hughes worked his way into a unanimous All-American and first-round draft pick.
"Coach P has this keen eye for finding certain players that might be under the radar and getting the most out of them," said Hughes, now with the Buffalo Bills.
This TCU team is stocked with similar players.
And Trevone Boykin, a two-star recruit who finished last season at receiver, turned himself into one of the top quarterbacks in the country.
"The whole football program embodies Gary," Fuente said. "He surrounds himself with those type of kids, who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and go to work."
While his work ethic has stayed as strong as ever, Patterson has found balance. Thanks to a similar affection for animals, he met his wife, Kelsey, who worked at the Fort Worth Zoo, in 2002. More than once, the Patterson family has gone scuba diving and taken African safaris. "Places where the phones don't work," Kelsey said, laughing.
Patterson also plays guitar and is a regular performer at local charity events. "He's the only guy I ever saw sing at his own wedding," said Kill, Patterson's best man.
Patterson has found satisfaction in the ride. But that doesn't mean he's finished building.
At just 54, relatively young in coaching years, Patterson is now the fourth-longest tenured head coach in the FBS. Other schools have knocked on his door. But Patterson has stuck with TCU.
"I've never found a place that was better," said Patterson, who follows almost 11,000 TCU fans and students on Twitter so he can interact with them through direct message. "I haven't found somewhere fit me better than TCU."
Together, over the years, TCU and Patterson have worked their way up. With the very top now in sight.
Each chapter has been punctuated by multiple visits to the "SportsCenter" Top 10, from aerial flips into the end zone to a touchdown celebration that started out like a dance, but ended in a handshake. Through it all, he has helped author one of the greatest seasons in TCU history, an 11-1 record, a share of a Big 12 championship, a College Football Playoff near-miss, and a New Year's Eve date with Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. On Saturday night he penned a fourth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting and thusly has already started writing his 2015 story, a season he will begin as the likely Heisman favorite.
The Boykin bestseller would be plenty remarkable enough all on its own. But this tale is a particular page-turner because of where it started. With not merely a blank sheet of paper, but a pile of wood pulp that still had to be pressed into that paper.
"Yeah, spring was ... interesting," the 23-year old junior admits. "I never had any doubt that we could pull it off. But yeah, it was a lot."
To read more of McGee's article on Boykin, click here.
Chatmon: It has to be the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, when West Virginia and Texas A&M battle on Dec. 29. Lots of points, lots of fun, lots of Red Bull. Mentor Dana Holgorsen against understudy Jake Spavital in a battle of offensive gurus. And considering this is a meaningless bowl game, I'm not interested in seeing much defense. I'm also looking forward to seeing what Kevin White has in store for his final game in a West Virginia uniform, after his breakout senior season.
Olson: There will be points in the Liberty Bowl, and I'm excited to see what a healthier West Virginia team is capable of against Texas A&M. But for me, the choice is the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Big 12 vs. Pac-12 matchup is typically a nice one in terms of style, and K-State taking on a UCLA team that Texas almost defeated in September, in the final starts for both Brett Hundley and Jake Waters, will be a lot of fun to watch.
Trotter: I'm intrigued by the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the matchup of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables going up against his former boss at Oklahoma in Bob Stoops. Remember, Stoops brought in his brother to coach the defense in 2011, which ultimately prompted Venables to leave Oklahoma for Clemson. If Venables' Tigers shut down the Sooners, and Clemson runs the score up on Mike Stoops, it will serve as an indictment of where Oklahoma is as a program three years after that move was made.
With no one playing for a national championship, which Big 12 team has the most to gain in bowl season?
Chatmon: It has to be Baylor against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. As good as the Bears have been during the past two seasons, some people still point to their Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida as a reason to doubt what Art Briles has built in Waco. Add the intrigue of proving the committee wrong and BU has plenty of motivation. It's also a chance for an impressive win against a quality Big Ten team in the race for conference bragging rights.
Olson: I agree with Brandon here. Some Baylor coaches I talked to before the season say their Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF was arguably the most frustrating of their time in Waco. A 12th win and ending a dream season with a BCS bowl win would've meant an awful lot to this program. They get a meaningful chance for a redo against a much better opponent in Michigan State.
Trotter: Baylor and TCU have the most to gain, because they have the chance to show they deserved to be in the playoff. But I'll throw another team into the discussion here in Texas. After finishing the season with a 48-10 home loss to TCU on Thanksgiving night, the Longhorns really need to bounce back against Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl to set the tone for 2015. Next season is going to be a critical one for Charlie Strong and the Texas program. A win over a former rival like Arkansas would give the Longhorns the momentum they'll need heading into next season.
Who is the one Big 12 player you'll be focused during the bowls?
Chatmon: I can't wait to see what Trevone Boykin has in store for an Ole Miss defense full of playmakers in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Boykin creates all kinds of problems for every defense with his ability to slither through open lanes like a running back yet frustrate defensive backs with his deep throws. The Rebels have held opposing quarterbacks to a 17.3 Adjusted QBR, ranking No. 2 among FBS teams behind Louisville, making this the best matchup of individual brilliance against team strength during the bowl season.
Olson: Giving Mason Rudolph a month of extra practice and all that post-Bedlam momentum is going to make for a fascinating performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl. Oklahoma State's rookie quarterback takes on Washington and a pass defense that ranked last in the Pac-12. I'll be a little surprised if he doesn't pick apart the Huskies on Jan. 2 and continue to build up hype for 2015. The confidence boost this team got from beating Oklahoma can't get squandered.
Trotter: Boykin and Rudolph are definitely players to watch. But I think I'll be most focused on Bryce Petty in his Baylor swan song facing one of the best defenses in the country in Michigan State. Quarterbacks the caliber of Petty -- on and off the field -- don't come along very often. I'll be curious to see how he goes out in a tough matchup in his final college game for the Bears.
A back-and-forth, four-hour slugfest was tied at 58-58 with only 1:17 left. If Trevone Boykin completes his fourth-down fade to Josh Doctson, game over.
If he doesn’t, well, game over.
No way could TCU stop the streaking Bears after they’d rallied back with 21 unanswered points in a matter of 10 minutes. So this was it. Convert here, set up the game-winning kick, take control of the Big 12.
But it wasn’t that simple. With 1:20 to go, TCU had rushed its punt team onto the field and booted a kick, catching Baylor mid-substitution with 12 on the field. The ensuing penalty trimmed the Frogs’ fourth-down distance from 8 yards to 3.
Gary Patterson had a decision to make with the ball now at the Baylor 45. He sent out Boykin and his offense to finish the job. Then Patterson called a timeout. Both his offense and his special teams unit huddled on the field. What now?
He chose the punt team, which lined up with wide splits and unclear intentions. The Horned Frogs looked to the sideline. Another timeout.
“We were going to try a punt fake,” Patterson said after the game. “Even if we kicked it to the 5-yard line, I didn't know if we could have stopped them.”
Three crucial minutes passed between the substitution penalty and TCU’s eventual fourth-down pass -- more than enough time for Patterson, the eventual ESPN.com Coach of the Year, to weigh every option.
Going for it was the best one.
“If we get that play and we can go down and kick a field goal,” Patterson said this month, “we wouldn’t be talking about it.”
To get that play, TCU sent out five receivers. Doctson lined up on the outside. Baylor corner Ryan Reid sneaked up to press him at the snap. It didn't matter. Boykin wasn’t making a read here. Snap, step, turn and lob. He threw it up and let his 6-foot-4 go-to receiver go get it.
Reid’s right arm was wrapped around him before the ball arrived, yet Doctson still got it in his mitts. If he’d snagged it right there, TCU is looking at first down near the 30. But the ball slipped off his left hand.
As Doctson was dragged to the ground, he still almost pulled the ball in with his outstretched right hand. Instead, it bounced off his fingertips and onto the turf.
Pass interference? They make a good case for it in Fort Worth. A smart no-call in which the refs let 'em play? You'll hear that argument in Waco. Art Briles says his defensive back did exactly what was expected.
“Our motto was keep it ugly,” Briles said. “We were going to play tough. We were going to play ugly, and whatever happens, happens.”
If a penalty happens, the Horned Frogs are set up perfectly for the game winner, maybe even a perfect regular season. Maybe that undefeated TCU team goes back to the Rose Bowl, takes care of business and plays for a national title in its own backyard.
Or maybe not. After all, it’s just one play.
A few of these selections were easy. A lot of them were not. Here are our award winners for the Big 12 in 2014.
College football's most improved player by far, Boykin went from utility player to superhero in an instant. His dream season included more than 4,400 total yards, 39 touchdowns, leadership of the nation's No. 2 scoring offense, 11 wins, a Big 12 championship trophy and a fourth-place finish for the Heisman Trophy. In August, there was no guarantee he'd be TCU's starting quarterback. By December, he had more Heisman votes than Jameis Winston. Incredible player, incredible season.
Defensive Player of the Year: DT Malcom Brown, Texas
The All-American and Outland Trophy finalist played defensive tackle at a level this league hadn't seen since Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy. Brown, an unblockable 6-foot-2, 320-pound monster, fought through double teams for 64 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He's a nightmare to gameplan against and was consistently dominant from the start of the season to the finish.
Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson's trophy case is filling up with national awards this month, and we'll throw him one more. A no-brainer choice for ESPN.com Coach of the Year, Patterson guided one of the most impressive one-year turnarounds we've seen in a long time. His 11-1 Horned Frogs looked nothing like the 4-8 team from 2013, even with nearly all of the same players from that season. Patterson hired the right coordinators, picked the right quarterback and nearly took them all the way to the College Football Playoff.
Offensive Freshman of the Year: RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
Freshmen aren't supposed to rush for 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns and an NCAA-record 427 yards in one game. Perine, a perfectly built wrecking ball of a back, never played like a freshman this season. He surpassed 200 yards in three games, put the Sooners on his massive back and finished the regular season as the No. 8 rusher in the country.
Defensive Freshman of the Year: S Dravon Henry, West Virginia
The Mountaineers had high hopes for their former ESPN 300 recruit, and he lived up to the hype. Henry has started at free safety since day one and logged 37 tackles and two interceptions, including a 52-yard pick-six. He's going to be a difference-maker in this conference soon.
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: RB Rushel Shell, West Virginia
We initially voted last week give this one to Tyreek Hill, because Oklahoma State is not bowl eligible without him talents as a receiver, rusher and returner. But in light on his domestic abuse arrest in dismissal, we'll instead recognize Shell. The Pitt transfer is the complete package on his best days, a tough runner who accounted for 897 total yards and seven scores while splitting carries.
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: CB Danzel McDaniel, Kansas State
A hard-hitting corner who can do everything else, too, McDaniel shined in his first season as a Wildcat. The Dodge City Community College transfer started every game and finished with 55 tackles (five for loss), a 5-yard pick-six at Oklahoma and two forced fumbles. McDaniel covers, plays the run, hits with aggression and brought a lot of confidence.