LOS ANGELES -- Now, it can be said. Or at least, TCU senior left tackle Marcus Cannon didn't mind revealing the truth on Wednesday: The Horned Frogs were a bit bummed out over last year's BCS matchup.
The 2009 team was a controversial Big 12 title game tick of the clock away from potentially playing for the national title. At the very least, the players wanted to prove themselves against a brand-name powerhouse like Texas or Alabama. Instead, they got matched up with Boise State in the Tostitos Fiesta (Non-AQ Super) Bowl. And, Cannon said, that disappointment affected their preparation.
"We didn't get ready last year," he said. "It wasn't on the coaches. It was on us, the way we were practicing, how we were looking at it.
"We didn't know how to act. We're at the Fiesta Bowl, we're at a nice little resort. ... I don't think we had much focus on winning. I think we were mostly kind of disappointed that we played Boise."
Cannon said the players didn't practice as fast, complained about little things and got a tongue-lashing from head coach Gary Patterson about their attitudes. The Horned Frogs looked flat in the game, too, losing 17-10 to the Broncos while dealing with a host of problems that including malfunctioning headsets.
"There were a lot of things that we weren't expecting in that game, even just with crowd noise," said quarterback Andy Dalton, who had one of the worst games of his career in Glendale, throwing three picks. "In the game we started using a silent snap count. We hadn't practiced it at all."
But that bad experience laid fertilizer for a potentially much better one. TCU players say they used the sour taste from last year's BCS debut to push them all through this season, and that's a big reason why they're 12-0 and squared off against Wisconsin for Saturday's Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.
The most obvious sign of that motivation is center Jake Kirkpatrick's shaggy locks. The senior hasn't cut his hair since near the end of the Boise State loss and promised not to until TCU suffered another defeat. He said he still thinks about the Fiesta Bowl every day.
"It's been lingering over our heads since we left, since the clock struck zero-zero," defensive lineman Cory Grant said. "It was in the back of our minds through training camp, summer workouts, spring camp. We're going to do everything in our power not to repeat what we did last year."
The team has changed its approach this week. Seniors lobbied Patterson to come out to Los Angeles before Christmas to start prep work, and they had their first on-site practice on Christmas Eve. They also asked Patterson to install a tight curfew, and they say practices this week have been much more intense than in Arizona.Some players said they were overwhelmed by the atmosphere at University of Phoenix Stadium, which they had never entered before game day. They visited the Rose Bowl on Monday and will have a walk-through on Friday to acclimate themselves.
"Last year, we were complacent," Dalton said. "This year, we're on a mission to win."
It's telling that none of the Horned Frogs have complained about not getting a shot at the national title despite going 12-0. True, the Rose Bowl is one heck of a consolation prize. But they also know that they have something to prove in a BCS game after last year. Patterson has a pyramid of goals back in Fort Worth, and directly underneath the pinnacle -- a national title -- is winning a BCS game.
Last year showed them how not to achieve that goal. They've worked for 12 months to try a new way.