TCU prepares for bigger things
Gary Patterson gears Frogs for Big 12 rigors with final run at MWC championship
FORT WORTH, Texas -- TCU coach Gary Patterson is preparing his team for what he is calling the true beginning to championship week.
The Horned Frogs, who are on the cusp of regaining footing in the national polls, face sneaky good Wyoming, undefeated in league play, in frigid Laramie on Saturday afternoon. And then it's off to the blue turf of No. 5 Boise State Broncos for a potential Mountain West Conference title showdown in those two rivals' anticipated only meeting as league foes.
TCU then finishes with home games against Colorado State and UNLV, as yet another era of Frogs football in its vagabond existence since the demise of the Southwest Conference comes to a close.
Yes, times are a changin' for the Big 12-bound Frogs.
It's why Patterson's mind is working on a double-sided game plan. At one moment, he's getting his team ready for the Cowboys and the expected cold with a nasty mix of rain and snow. The next moment, he's leading a film session and pointing out a play that simply won't cut muster on a road trip to Lubbock, Austin, Norman or Stillwater.
"He's definitely letting everybody know that we take our time here in the Mountain West very seriously, but now with the Big 12 it's going to get kicked up another notch because we play teams like Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State," senior offensive lineman Jeff Olson said. "It's definitely getting kicked up and it's slowly getting there and Coach P just says this is how it's going to be, so you have to get ready. And if you can't, deal with it and send you on your way."
As a senior, Olson certainly isn't discounting these final four games in a conference that has never afforded its members a guaranteed championship path to the coveted BCS bowl games, unlike the suddenly resurgent Big 12.
Olson wants to go out on top and surpass last year's seniors for most wins by a TCU class. Then there's a third consecutive MWC title to claim and, finally, to exit the league with four more wins and extend the record string of consecutive conference victories to 24.
Patterson said he actually hasn't heard much Big 12 chirping from his players. If anyone's bringing it up, he said, it's him.
To that end, Patterson said he will assess his entire program after this season and that all facets will be open to tweaks or, if necessary, complete overhaul.
"You've got to acquire a different mentality about how you do things," Patterson said. "And we'll re-assess everything we do in our program and how that will carry forward from offseason work to how we recruit to how we coach to how many periods [of practice] a week; everything will be assessed going forward because of the difference in the pounding or the difference of level [of competition]. All of those things we'll look into."
In his 11th season at TCU, Patterson is 106-30 and, no doubt, the losses will naturally come at a faster rate, at least at first, upon joining the most competitive league Patterson has coached in during his 30-plus-year career.
He has paid particular attention this season to former MWC member Utah as it grinds through its first season in the Pac-12 with disappointing results. The Utes are 4-4 overall and 1-4 in conference play.
Utah has been outscored 131-76 in league games. Only one Pac-12 loss so far has come against a team in the BCS standings, a 35-14 beating to No. 19 Arizona State. The Utes finally claimed their first conference win last week against hapless Oregon State.
Patterson said he has used the Utes' plight as an example to his team, much the way he held up Colt McCoy's departure and its effect on the Texas Longhorns as an example heading into this season, the first without record-setting quarterback Andy Dalton in five seasons.
"When you know there's going to be a change in your team, you're looking for an example out there that would best fit it so that you prepare for it," Patterson said. "Same thing goes for Utah. I know [Utah coach] Kyle Whittingham is a good football coach. You have to get ready to play on a day-to-day basis and we're going to have a plan, a plan to play on a Big 12 schedule on a day-to-day basis -- and try not to let what happened to Utah this year happen to us."
It won't be easy, but Patterson, in the midst of a preparing his team for a final championship week in the Mountain West, is already gearing up for the coming rigors of the Big 12.
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.