Sunday, September 27, 2009 Updated: October 19, 11:30 AM ET
Rivalry anything but neighborly
By Richard Durrett ESPNDallas.com
CLEMSON, S.C. -- TCU coach Gary Patterson wasn't even dry from a soaking, satisfying 14-10 victory over Clemson on Saturday when his focus turned squarely to SMU.
"Last time we beat a team like this, it was Oklahoma in 2005, and we lost to SMU the next week," Patterson said, less than six minutes into his news conference as rain poured in Clemson. "We just happen to have SMU the next week, and they've got two weeks to prepare for us. It's a crosstown rival."
The situation is similar. The Horned Frogs (3-0) are ranked 10th and are coming off an emotional road victory. Andy Dalton threw two touchdown passes, including a 25-yarder to Antoine Hicks with 12:46 remaining, and the defense twice stopped Clemson fourth-quarter drives inside the TCU 20 to preserve the win.
The 2005 loss to SMU is one Patterson didn't waste any time using as motivation leading up to Saturday's game in Fort Worth. And good luck finding a TCU player willing to discuss how important it was to beat Clemson on the road to keep BCS hopes alive.
SMU players and students celebrate after a 21-10 upset of TCU in 2005. It's the last time the Mustangs have had the Iron Skillet in their grasp.
"I don't let my team talk about the BCS," Patterson said. "We ain't drinking that Kool-Aid."
What they are drinking is the notion that winning big on the road against an ACC team won't matter if they can't beat the rival school 40 miles to the east.
That was a lesson learned four years ago when TCU went up to Norman, Okla., and beat the No. 5 Sooners. Talk of crashing the BCS party lasted only a week. SMU intercepted three passes, and TCU missed three field goals as the Mustangs won the Iron Skillet 21-10.
The Horned Frogs finished the regular season 10-1 but out of the BCS bowl mix.
So TCU's focus is to avoid a similar letdown this week. For SMU, the 2005 game is a reminder that they can beat TCU, no matter how well the Frogs might be playing. But the Mustangs can't seem to get last year's 48-7 loss out of their minds.
It's that game that fuels them this season.
"We didn't play to our potential last year, and they pretty much embarrassed us because we weren't up enough for the game," SMU senior OL Mitch Enright said. "But this year, we know that we have a good enough team to beat them. It's a matter of executing, representing SMU and not backing down."
SMU is coming off a difficult road loss to Washington State. The Mustangs had two fourth-quarter turnovers and another in overtime to blow a 17-point second-half lead, despite nearly doubling Washington State's offensive output.
"We're starting to learn how to win," SMU coach June Jones said. "We're starting to get there. You learn from your mistakes. Hopefully we won't throw the football to them as much as we did last week. We have to get better each week.
"If we do that in these next five games starting with TCU, we can get to the last month with a chance to make a bowl game."
Jones said the rivalry with TCU is good for both schools in that players that competed with and against each other in high school get a chance to meet in college. That sentiment was echoed by several players.
"It's for bragging rights," SMU linebacker Pete Fleps said. "But I think here it's been downgraded because we haven't won it very often. I can tell you we are turning things around here, and it's going to be a lot more competitive."
SMU looks at TCU and sees the kind of program it wants to be.
"They are a small private school in this area.," Enright said. "There's nothing different between these schools, it's just that they have established themselves as a perennial top-25 team, and that's obviously the direction we're going.
"We look at them as a team we should be like in the near future."
For now, SMU would like a repeat of 2005 as it tries to become bowl-eligible.
TCU just wants to be sure history doesn't repeat itself.
Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.