NCF Nation: Jake Kirkpatrick

TCU young on offensive line

May, 9, 2011
The two most overlooked parts of any team are the offensive line and special teams -- until things go wrong, of course. But line play is generally a measure of how well a team does. A really good offensive line means big running holes and few sacks. A really bad one? Well, just ask any quarterback who has spent way too much time eating turf.

TCU had one of the best offensive lines in football last year (one of the most underrated, too). Outgoing starters Marcus Cannon, Jake Kirkpatrick, Zach Roth and Josh Vernon combined for 96 career starts. TCU ranked No. 10 in the nation in rushing, averaging 247 yards a game. It ranked tied for No. 5 in the nation with nine sacks allowed.

Kirkpatrick won the Rimington Award as the top center in the country; Cannon was an NFL draft pick.

So as experienced as TCU was last season, it is inexperienced headed into 2011. Combine that with an inexperienced quarterback in Casey Pachall, and there are big questions on offense for the Horned Frogs.

"The place we’re going to have to improve on is how we play at the offensive tackle position," coach Gary Patterson said coming out of spring practice. "We’re young there. How they play is going to be very indicative of what we do."

Left guard Kyle Dooley is going into his third year as a starter. But beyond him, the rest of the offensive linemen on the team have a combined nine starts.

Jeff Olson is the only tackle on the roster with any starting experience. He is currently penciled in to start at right tackle. At left tackle, sophomore James Dunbar sits atop the post-spring depth chart. Dunbar did learn behind Cannon as the backup to him, so that is a plus. But behind him, redshirt freshman Nykiren Wellington and Tayo Fabuluje (BYU transfer) have no playing experience at TCU.

New starting center James Fry also was the backup to Kirkpatrick last season, but there is inexperience behind him as well with sophomore Eric Tausch and redshirt freshman Michael Thompson. Right guard Blaize Foltz has two career starts, but already has emerged as a team leader. Backup left guard Spencer Thompson has three starts. In all, there are only three seniors of 11 players listed on the post-spring depth chart.

"Our guards are going to be great," Patterson said. "It comes down to offensive tackle and depth at center."

Spring rewind: TCU

April, 12, 2011
TCU kicks off the first of several spring wrapups for selected non-AQ teams. The Horned Frogs have plenty of holes to fill after losing an eye-popping 26 seniors, including veteran leaders Andy Dalton, Jake Kirkpatrick and Tejay Johnson. Several players stepped up, while other positions still have question marks headed into fall practice.

Questions answered: The biggest are the replacements for Dalton and Johnson. Casey Pachall had a good spring and really answered the challenge of having to replace the winningest quarterback in school history. Pachall is bigger than Dalton, has a stronger arm than Dalton and can run faster than Dalton. Though he is just a redshirt sophomore, he just completed his third spring practice at TCU because he was an early enrollee. He definitely has a grasp of the offense, and split all the reps this spring with Matt Brown -- the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster right now. Senior Johnny Fobbs is penciled in to replace Johnson and also appears to be stepping up. One position to note is defensive line, where coach Gary Patterson believes his team could be even better than last season. Braylon Broughton had a terrific spring as the replacement for Wayne Daniels at defensive end, and Stansly Maponga continued to mature at the other end spot. Broughton, at 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, is also a senior and expectations are high for him.

[+] EnlargeTank Carder
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireTCU will be counting on leadership and production from linebacker Tank Carder in the fall.
Questions unanswered: The biggest is who is going to step up as a leader to fill the void of Dalton, Johnson and Kirkpatrick. There are several candidates, from linebacker Tank Carder to receiver Josh Boyce to guard Blaize Foltz. Patterson will not have his answer until fall camp, when he sees who steps up and takes leadership and accountability during offseason workouts -- when the true character of teams are formed. As for positions, receiver needs more depth, and TCU is most likely going to need to rely on two highly touted incoming true freshmen -- Brandon Carter and LaDarius Brown. The offensive line also has four new starters, though some of them have gotten extended playing time in games. Pachall might have the physical tools, but does he have the intangibles to lead TCU to another BCS game?

Spring stars: Watch for Sam Carter at safety. Carter follows the mold Patterson loves to use when finding his defensive stars. Carter came in as a quarterback and redshirted in the fall. He is now playing safety and opened some eyes. So did true freshman Deryk Gildon out of Arlington, Texas. Gildon enrolled early and at some points during the spring was running with the second team. He has a chance to get some playing time this season on special teams, and behind Carder and Tanner Brock.

Of note: Carder sat out the spring while rehabbing an injury. What sticks out to me is the way TCU is playing the underdog card for the 2011 season. The Horned Frogs have lost one game the past two seasons, but are most likely going to be picked to finish second in the Mountain West behind Boise State because of all the players they lose. TCU backers will tell you that the program is on solid footing, and they don't rebuild, they reload. They will most certainly have to prove that this season.

Non-AQ Top 25 Players: No. 22

February, 17, 2011
It is never easy when you are one of the so-called “big uglies” playing on the offensive line. Recognition is generally hard to come by, since the only time anyone notices is when you give up a sack. This list only has one offensive lineman, and he is a dandy.

[+] EnlargeJake Kirkpatrick
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTCU center Jake Kirkpatrick, shown celebrating a win against SMU, won the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the best center in college football.
No. 22 Jake Kirkpatrick, C, TCU

The steadying force of the TCU offensive line has been Kirkpatrick the past two seasons. But 2010 was his finest season, as he won the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the best center in college football. He became the first non-AQ player to win the award, after helping the Horned Frogs rank No. 10 in the nation in rushing offense. Not only that, TCU only gave up nine sacks all season, tying for fifth in the country. He obviously is a big reason why Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker had great seasons running the ball, and why Andy Dalton was able to stay upright and lead TCU into the Rose Bowl. TCU has plenty of players to replace in 2011, and you can make the argument that Kirkpatrick will be one of the toughest because of his steadying presence on the offensive line.

No. 23 Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple

No. 24 Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky

No. 25 Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State

Pettis draws praise at Senior Bowl

January, 28, 2011
It was a light day for players at the Senior Bowl on Thursday, but the Scouts Inc. crew of Todd McShay, Kevin Weidl and Steve Muench still had plenty to say. You need an Insider subscription to read much of this content, but here are a few snippets.

While San Diego State receiver Vincent Brown and Boise State receiver Titus Young drew praise all week, the group called attention to Broncos receiver Austin Pettis as well. Here is what they had to say:
He's not the most explosive athlete and there's not a lot of suddenness in his routes, he is a savvy route runner, finds the soft spots, sets up defenders well, and does a good job getting off press coverage and getting a clean release. He's very polished. At 6-2, 205 pounds, he's also a good red zone target. He has a large strike zone, uses his body to shield defenders, plays the ball well and catches everything. He might never be more than a third receiver, but he can make plays. He'll bring value in the fifth-round range.

You can read more about Brown in a different post. They also noted TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick helped his draft stock this week.

So did Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who drew raves from just about everybody. One report suggested he could now be a second-round pick, with the Vikings and Dolphins showing interest.

Non-AQ storylines in Senior Bowl

January, 24, 2011
Todd McShay listed his top storylines for the Senior Bowl Insider, set for Saturday in Mobile, Ala. The week kicks off today, with 100 prospects vying for the attention of NFL scouts, general managers and coaches.

Here are a few of the non-AQ storylines I am going to be following:

1. Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick. Two of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football get a chance to prove themselves in the senior showcase event. McShay says this of Dalton: "Dalton is one of the more underrated quarterback prospects in the class and this is a good opportunity to show NFL teams that he is capable of scanning the field and making all the necessary throws from within the pocket." And of Kaepernick: "Like Dalton, needs to look fluid dropping from under center and needs to make sound decisions."

Both quarterbacks were the unquestioned leaders of their teams and have the intangibles necessary to play quarterback. Dalton won 44 career games -- and went 25-1 over his last two seasons. Kaepernick guided Nevada to its best season this past year at 12-1 and became a master of the Pistol. Dalton would appear to be the most "NFL ready" of the two. The bigger questions surround Kaepernick, simply because he ran an offense that is completely different than what he will be asked to do in the NFL. McShay is right in that he is going to have to start taking snaps from under center -- remember that was a big question that hounded Tim Tebow at this time last season. But his athleticism, and improved passing, should make him somebody worth looking at on the next level.

2. Receiver competition. Plenty of big-time non-AQ players at receiver in this game. You have Austin Pettis and Titus Young from Boise State, Greg Salas from Hawaii, Vincent Brown from San Diego State and Dwayne Harris from East Carolina. Of that group, Pettis and Young are the most well known nationally. Young has incredible speed but is slightly undersized at 5-11. Harris has tremendous versatility. Pettis is as sure handed a receiver as you will find, though his speed may be called into question. Salas racked up the stats in the pass-happy Hawaii offense but could be labeled a "system guy." I am looking forward to seeing how they all do.

3. All-purpose players. Jeremy Kerley has had a tremendous career at TCU as one of the top all-purpose players in the country. So has Harris. It will be interesting to see how their skills translate into the next level. Kerley is small, at 5-foot-10, but he could make an immediate impact on special teams returning kicks. One player missing from this group who was scheduled to play in the game -- Troy's Jerrel Jernigan, who is out with a high ankle sprain. He hopes to be healthy for the NFL combine next month.

Here are other non-AQ players in the game:

Tulsa RB Charles Clay

TCU C Jake Kirkpatrick

Temple DB Jaiquawn Jarrett

Toledo OL Kevin Kowalski

Marshall TE Lee Smith
PASADENA, Calif. -- Gary Patterson doesn't have a vote in the coaches' poll this season. Voters in that poll are required by rule to place the BCS title game winner -- either Auburn or Oregon in this year's case -- at the top of their ballot.

But Patterson -- who has steadfastly refused to whine about undefeated TCU being left out of the national championship picture -- did a rare bit of lobbying after his Horned Frogs beat Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

"If I was a voter, I'll watch those two teams play and see how my team compares to them," Patterson said Saturday night. "Then I'll have my own national championship vote if I think we're better. It won't count, but it seems like a lot of votes don't count anymore."

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireGary Patterson's Horned Frogs finished the season a perfect 13-0.
That's about as much complaining or cajoling as any of the TCU contingent voiced in the wake of Saturday's victory. The BCS gaveth, and the BCS taketh away from the Horned Frogs. They finished 12-0 for the second straight regular season and were shut out again from the national title game. But they also have gone to two straight BCS games, and this year they had the unique privilege of playing in the Rose Bowl.

"We'll go down in history as one of the first non-AQ teams ever to win the Rose Bowl," tailback Ed Wesley said. "We're very proud of that. Maybe if we go undefeated again next year they'll give us a shot at the title."

Of course, TCU isn't the first non-AQ team in recent memory to go undefeated and unrecognized for a national championship. Utah did it in the 2004 and 2008 seasons, while Boise State accomplished the feat last year. But the Horned Frogs might have a bit stronger of a case this time around. The Utes beat mediocre Pittsburgh and disinterested SEC runner-up Alabama in their bowl games. Boise State topped TCU in last year's Fiesta Bowl as the non-AQs got ghettoized.

TCU beat an 11-1 Big Ten co-champion in No. 5 Wisconsin that was highly motivated to win the Rose Bowl. The stadium was at least 65 percent Badgers red. This was no fluky, mistake-filled upset, either. Both teams played well. The Horned Frogs were just better.

"We can play with anybody," said receiver Jimmy Young. "What more have we got to prove?"

The schedule hurts their case. Other than Wisconsin, TCU has beaten only one other team (Utah) currently in the BCS standings, and the Utes could drop out after getting hammered in their bowl game by Boise State. (On the flip side, San Diego State and Air Force both registered nice bowl wins and could climb into the final rankings).

Unless Auburn and Oregon play a complete stinker, odds are very few voters will seriously consider the Horned Frogs for the top spot in The Associated Press poll. But the Rose Bowl win could help TCU start next year high in the rankings, even though the team loses many key seniors such as quarterback Andy Dalton, center Jake Kirkpatrick, receiver Jeremy Kerley, defensive end Wayne Daniels and safety Tejay Johnson.

"We're going to just keep climbing the mountain," Kirkpatrick said. "Our goal is to win the national championship, and we're one step closer now."

This TCU team might have been good enough to win the BCS title, but we'll never know. The Horned Frogs will happily settle for 13-0 and a Rose Bowl win that will be remembered for generations.

"Nobody has beaten us yet," linebacker Tanner Brock said. "So we're a champion in my book."
PASADENA, Calif. -- Andy Dalton changed once TCU began its postseason practices in Fort Worth last month.

Receiver Jimmy Young noticed it right away. Dalton stopped cracking jokes with his teammates and laughing in the locker room. Smiles didn't come very easily from the big redhead.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Jeff Gross/Getty Images"I knew everything they were doing," Andy Dalton said of Wisconsin's defense. Dalton racked up 247 yards of total offense and was TCU's offensive MVP.
"You can always tell when Andy is serious," Young said. "I just knew then that he was locked in."

"Locked in" is a good way to describe Dalton's performance in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Horned Frogs put the bulk of the offensive game plan in the hands of their reliable senior quarterback, and he delivered in a 21-19 win over Wisconsin.

Dalton, the game's offensive MVP, completed 15 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown and finished as his team's leading rusher with another score that way. In all, he accounted for 247 of TCU's 301 yards.

Maybe most importantly, he didn't throw any interceptions. In the previous year's 17-10 loss to Boise State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he had the worst game of his career, getting picked off three times. He had to live with the criticism that came from that loss, and he said he didn't watch any replays of the game for more than two weeks afterward. Center Jake Kirkpatrick described Dalton as really down on himself last January.

Dalton remembers the feeling well. As he awaited his Rose Bowl news conference, Dalton saw the disappointed Wisconsin players on the dais and immediately recognized the looks on their faces.

"To take a lot of the blame for the team puts you in a tough position," he said. "That's something I didn't want to feel again."

So once the Rose Bowl matchup was announced, Dalton got down to business. He did little else but study film on Wisconsin in the weeks leading up to the game. Along with the coaching staff, he thought the Horned Frogs could exploit the Wisconsin defense down the field and on the edges. When TCU needed a big play on offense, time and again Dalton found open receivers.

His numbers could have been better if not for a few drops and a couple of times when receivers slipped on the stadium's grass. Only once in the first half did a tailback even touch the ball, as Dalton picked up yards himself on the zone-read plays.

"I knew everything they were doing," he said of Wisconsin's defense. "The way I studied for this game helped with the way we played. I was really focused because I knew I wanted to play well in this game."

In truth, Dalton's Rose Bowl performance typified his career better than the Fiesta Bowl disappointment. Lightly recruited -- TCU beat out UTEP and Memphis for his services -- Dalton won the starting job as a freshman and broke every school passing record. He finished as the Horned Frogs' all-time winningest quarterback, with a 42-7 record, including 36-3 the past three years.

That's why teammates said earlier this week that they let him down last year against Boise State, not the other way around.

"He's how we were able to go 13-0," tailback Ed Wesley said. "He's the guy who has led this team this far, and it was his job, I guess, to finish it off."

Dalton was one of the last two players to leave the TCU locker room, walking toward the team bus in his white sweat suit. A smattering of fans still waiting spotted him and yelled "Andy!" He cracked a smile. There was no need to be locked in any more.
TCU is putting the purple in Pasadena. The Horned Frogs muscled their way into the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO as the first non-AQ team to make it here in the BCS era. They have seemed focused all week and determined to put on a good show. But Wisconsin presents a -- literally -- huge challenge.

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Andy Dalton. A four-year starter, Dalton has won 41 games in his career. But his last lost came in last year's Fiesta Bowl against Boise State, when he threw three interceptions. Dalton aims to atone for that performance, and it's safe to say TCU has little chance to win unless he has a great game. The Horned Frogs defense will likely give up more points than it's used to surrendering against Wisconsin's steamrolling offense, so it will be on Dalton to make sure TCU keeps up on the scoreboard.

WHAT TO WATCH: The trenches. There might not be a more fascinating bowl matchup this year than Wisconsin's supersized offensive line vs. TCU's athletic, diet-friendly defense. The Horned Frogs are fast enough to fill every gap, but do they have the strength to stand up to the Badgers' big boys? The other side is just as interesting, as TCU's underrated offensive line headlined by Rimington winner Jake Kirkpatrick and mammoth tackle Marcus Cannon go against a Wisconsin front four featuring star defensive end J.J. Watt. This is one game where watching the ball might mean you're missing the most interesting stuff.

WHY WATCH: It's the Grandaddy of Them All, and there's no better sight in college football than the Rose Bowl at dusk. On top of that, this is actually a marquee showdown of two Top 5 teams. TCU could stake a claim to the national title if it finishes 13-0, and the Horned Frogs are well aware that there is some non-AQ pride on the line. There are enticing individual matchups all over the field between conference and national award winners, plus the classic speed vs. power angle. What more could a football fan want from a bowl game?

PREDICTION: Wisconsin is a powerful, proven Big Ten champion, while TCU must overcome the size disadvantage. But don't discount A) the Horned Frogs' athleticism and B) their will to win. This is a team that has won its past 25 regular-season games and is motivated to reverse last year's BCS result. They will need to play a nearly-perfect game, but I think they will in a 30-27 victory.

TCU aims for staying power

December, 30, 2010
LOS ANGELES -- TCU is proudly carrying a banner at the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

"We're not just representing TCU," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We're representing all the non-AQ schools."

The Horned Frogs are taking that responsibility very seriously this week, saying they have to play well for all the schools who might never get a chance to make it to this stage. As far as crusades go, though, this won't be a long one. TCU will soon be leaving that torch for someone else to pick up.

It is the first team from outside the six automatic-qualifying conferences to reach two consecutive BCS games, and it came the hard way as TCU has gone 12-0 the last two regular seasons. In 2012, the team will have much more margin for error as it joins the Big East and can still make the BCS just by winning the league.

"I'm actually a little envious of the younger players," said cornerback Greg McCoy, whose eligibility expires after the 2011 campaign. "We all worked hard for the future, and I know there's a lot of envy among the upperclassmen. But when you work hard, things get better. And we all know we contributed to this."

TCU's senior class played a major role in making the program attractive to the Big East, winning 35 games the previous three years. Many of those seniors are stars on this team, like four-year starter Andy Dalton, center Jake Kirkpatrick, receiver/returner Jeremy Kerley, safety Tejay Johnson and defensive end Wayne Daniels.

But the program has shown that it can reload. Last year's team lost All-America defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Daryl Washington to the NFL. Daniels elevated his game, and redshirt freshman Stansly Maponga stepped in to replace Hughes' production at end. Sophomore Tanner Brock took over for Washington at middle linebacker and kept that position strong.

"We have a great coaching staff and the athletes to continue to be successful," senior right guard Josh Vernon said. "We don't rely on just one guy on offense or defense."

Can TCU keep this going? It's unrealistic to think the program will keep piling up undefeated regular seasons. But who's to say they can't become the top frogs in the Big East and turn into the next Virginia Tech, Miami or Florida State -- programs that went from humble beginnings to consistent national powers.

They're not far from that level now.

"I don't feel like we're the small guy," head coach Gary Patterson said. "We've only lost three games the last three years. We lost to Oklahoma that played in national championship game. We lost to Utah that beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and then Boise State a year ago (in the Fiesta Bowl). So we've been in big games and we've proven we can play on a big stage. "

As long as Patterson stays in Fort Worth, the team should remain highly competitive. The school is in the midst of a $105 million renovation of Amon Carter Stadium, funded through private donations. Patterson's staff knows how to recruit and develop Texas talent.

There might not be many more Rose Bowls in the Horned Frogs' future, but Big East membership will allow them to compete for BCS games on an annual basis.

"Obviously we've done something right to get to go to the Big East, and hopefully we'll make that league better," Dalton said. "I can't see us dropping off. I think we'll just keep getting better."
LOS ANGELES -- A lot of attention in the buildup to the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO has focused on Wisconsin's mammoth offensive line. It's not so much that those guys stole the spotlight; it's more like they're so big that they block out the sun.

But while the Badgers' offensive front deserves all those accolades, its TCU counterparts shouldn't be cowering in the shadows.

[+] EnlargeTCU's Jake Kirkpatrick
Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIRETCU's Jake Kirkpatrick, winner of the Rimington Award as the nation's top center, and the rest of the TCU offensive line have the Horned Frogs averaging 261 rushing yards per game.
Wisconsin's blockers paved the road to the tune of 247 rushing yards per game. The Horned Frogs averaged 261 yards per game on the ground. The Badgers gave up only 12 sacks this season. TCU allowed just nine. Yeah, Wisconsin's line averages 321 pounds per man. But TCU is only a few donuts shy at 317 pounds per lineman.

The Badgers have the Outland Trophy winner in tackle Gabe Carimi. The Horned Frogs have the Rimington Trophy winner in center Jake Kirkpatrick.

"They deserve all the credit they get because they're big, physical, and they're known for their O-lines," Kirkpatrick said. "But we feel like we've got some big guys, too. I tell everyone I talk to I think we have one of the best O-line coaches in the country. I mean, yeah, we definitely feel like we're going to try and go out there and prove that we're a good O-line and a good offense."

Wisconsin has those beefy Big Ten guys, but they don't come much bigger than TCU left tackle Marcus Cannon. The 6-foot-6, 350-pounder switched from right tackle to left tackle before his senior season and has been a dominant force.

"Going against (Horned Frogs defensive end) Wayne Daniels in practice, he probably helped me the most because he's the end when I play left side," Cannon said. "He's faster than the other ones. That was the part I was trying to get over, understanding that I'm going to lose some at first because I'm not 100 percent down, how to move around at left tackle yet."

Cannon will be matched up with the Badgers' J.J. Watt, who won the Lott Trophy this year while recording 21 tackles for loss. I asked Watt if TCU's line looked like the one he goes up against in practice every week.

"They're a very good offensive line that moves well," he said. "They have good feet. They're big guys so they can do a lot of things.

"It's tough to compare them because the offense is different. Our offense is just going to kind of mash the ball down your throat, while TCU's offense is going to do a little bit more misdirection, stuff like that. "

The TCU line is used to being overshadowed. Most of the stories and talk around the Horned Frogs program usually center on their outstanding, nation-leading defense. But this year's line has depth and skill, while the numbers, size and trophies speak for themselves. This group doesn't need to be eclipsed by anybody.

Video: TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick

December, 29, 2010

Brian Bennett talks with TCU center Jake Kirkpatrick.

TCU hoping for Rose-ier BCS experience

December, 29, 2010
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.

Stop and smell the (purple) roses

December, 28, 2010
LOS ANGELES -- On Monday morning, TCU coach Gary Patterson took his team out to Rose Bowl Stadium so the players could get a glance at the hallowed grounds. They walked on the grass, took pictures and watched workers apply the first coat of paint that made up the school's logo in an end zone.

You know, once-in-a-lifetime stuff.

"As a former player and an alum, the hair stands up on the back of your neck when you see that," said John Denton, the Horned Frogs' color analyst who accompanied the team on the trip. "Never in my life did I think I'd see TCU in the Rose Bowl."

There were some who might rather have died than see this day. For decades, Big Ten and Pac-10 officials have insisted the only way they would release their prized bowl experience was if rigor mortis finally subsided from their lifeless hands. They can merely grit their teeth now as the Granddaddy of Them All hosts the new kid in town.

[+] EnlargeTCU's Ed Wesley
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIRERunning back Ed Wesley and TCU are bringing the purple back to Pasadena.
Only four times since 1946 has a team outside the Big Ten and Pac-10 elbowed its way onto this stage, and those four schools all have blue-blood lineage: Texas, Miami, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Joining their ranks is a team that -- including its forthcoming entry into the Big East -- has bounced around five different leagues since 1995. TCU was playing in the Fort Worth, and Houston bowls in the first part of the 2000s. Now it's ready to paint Pasadena purple for the first time since Northwestern crashed the party in 1996.

“We never thought we’d be here," center Jake Kirkpatrick admits. "We definitely feel blessed."

Ironically, the same BCS many blame for holding down schools outside the six power conferences kicked down college football's most fortified entrance. A rule change forced the Rose to take an automatic qualifier from a non-AQ league the first time it lost one of its league tie-ins to the BCS title game. So as Oregon advanced to play Auburn for the national championship, TCU slid into the void to take on Wisconsin in Saturday's Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

That possibility didn't even dawn on many of the Horned Frogs until midway through the season.

"Coming into the year, we weren’t going, ‘OK, we’re going to the Rose Bowl,’" quarterback Andy Dalton said. "Later on when everybody started talking about it, when the media started picking it up, that’s when we realized it.

“To play in a game like this with so much tradition, so much history, it just gave us that extra little bit and it showed in the way we played. I feel like I’ve grown up watching the Rose Bowl, watching all the different things that have happened in it."

The sight of a Horned Frog clinching a rose in its teeth -- the logo adorning TCU's team buses in Los Angeles this week -- takes a little getting used to. But upon closer inspection, this newest member of the Rose Bowl club doesn't seem so out of place.

Tradition? Last year's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl runners-up have now made all four major bowl games in their history. TCU claims two national championships in the 1930s and was a frequent Cotton Bowl participant in the 1950s.

Current credentials? The No. 3 Horned Frogs have finished in the Top 10 three straight seasons and have won 25 consecutive regular-season games. They have the highest average final ranking of any team in the past three years.

"Coach Patterson has built a football program, not a one-hit wonder," TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said. "As I said last year, getting to a BCS bowl is not the pinnacle for us; it's a jumping-off point."

Stanford fans might be miffed that they're heading to Miami instead of Pasadena, but local businesses aren't too upset. TCU gobbled up its 20,000-ticket allotment in four days and then asked for more. That's pretty strong for a school with fewer than 10,000 students enrolled and, Del Conte says, only about 55,000 living alumni.

Rose Bowl CEO Scott McKibben said subsidiary events such as this week's Hall of Fame luncheon and the Tournament of Roses parade have sold more tickets this year than they have in several years. Wisconsin's rabid fan base accounts for some of that, but McKibben also credits the freshness of the Horned Frogs.

"I think people are more excited coming out here for the Rose Bowl, the parade and everything else then they would be if we were going back to Phoenix to play for the national championship," said Denton, who is also executive director of the Frog Club booster organization. "Our fans grasp the gravity of this situation. This is a day most Frogs fans never thought they'd see."

It's reminiscent of the climax of the Los Angeles-based movie "Magnolia," when frogs began raining from the sky. Such rare phenomenons present two choices: Roll with it, or -- like many of TCU's recent opponents -- end up getting splattered.

TCU sells out ticket allotment

December, 10, 2010
Who says non-AQ schools never travel? TCU has sold out its allotment of 20,000 tickets to the Rose Bowl and is looking for more because of heavy demand.

It is a no-brainer, of course, that Horned Frogs fans should be asking for tickets in droves. No. 3 TCU is set to face No. 5 Wisconsin on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif., representing not only itself but non-AQ schools everywhere. In fact, a very informal poll of a handful of athletes gathered in Orlando for the Home Depot College Football Awards said this game was the one they were most interested in watching outside of the national championship game because they wanted to see how a non-AQ team would fare against the Big Ten.

TCU coach Gary Patterson said earlier in the week, "I think for us to keep climbing the mountain, we need to (win). We’re not going there just to play well."

In other TCU news, WR/KR/PR JeremyKerley was selected as a finalist for the inaugural Paul Hornung Award, which will be presented to the most versatile athlete in college football. Stanford LB/FB Owen Marecic and Kentucky WR/QB Randall Cobb also are finalists. The winner will be selected after bowl season.

Also, safety Tejay Johnson and center Jake Kirkpatrick were selected to the first-team Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America team, the first time TCU has had two members on the first team in the same year. Kirkpatrick won the Rimington Award as well, given to the nation's best center.