Saturday, September 4, 2010 Updated: September 5, 4:24 PM ET
TCU clears first hurdle on road to glory
By Jeff Caplan ESPNDallas.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Your move, Boise State.
No. 6 TCU took care of its business Saturday night by ousting No. 24 Oregon State in one of the most anticipated season openers in school history because of the enormous ramifications attached to it. Lose at Cowboys Stadium, and TCU's singular goal of returning to a BCS game or beyond would have been flattened like Texas Stadium.
After an exciting 30-21 victory in front of 46,138, a game that was tight throughout and one in which TCU overcame mistakes and ultimately wore down the Pac-10 Beavers under an open roof, well, the unimaginable, the implausible, even the impossible is suddenly all very real.
Yes, it is the first week of September, but for non-automatic qualifying conference schools -- a phrase now as much a part of the college football lexicon as the acronym BCS -- it might as well be mid-November. TCU passed its biggest test, defeating the lone nationally ranked team currently on its schedule, setting the table for a second consecutive undefeated regular season.
Gary Patterson has the Horned Frogs headed in the right direction for a second straight BCS berth.
Only this time, courtesy of a top-7 preseason ranking in both major polls, the Horned Frogs and No. 3 Boise State -- and debate this until you're as blue in the face as the Broncos' home turf -- know that a spot in the national championship game is certainly not guaranteed, but it's no longer pure fantasy, either.
"It makes us 1-0. I think that's the biggest thing, it makes us 1-0," said a sweaty TCU coach Gary Patterson after the first game of his 10th season as head coach.
"We're only one of two or three teams who are playing a ranked team. I mean, you didn't see a 55-3 game on national TV. But, to get one of these kinds of games, one of your tougher games behind you, and you've won it, is a big deal for us."
No. 3 Boise State surely was paying close attention. It puts its unabashed non-AQ dreams on the line Monday night in Washington, D.C., against No. 10 Virginia Tech. In two weeks the Broncos face these same Beavers in Boise.
"I think so, if we can both take care of business," said senior TCU quarterback Andy Dalton regarding the chances of forging a legitimate path to the national championship game. "We've set ourselves up to have some national goals."
Dalton said he'll be watching with interest Monday night.
"I'm neutral for the game," Dalton said. "I actually know both of those quarterbacks. I've been able to hang out with them a couple of times, so I'll send them both a good luck text and enjoy the game."
Dalton didn't have one of his best games Saturday night, tossing two interceptions that led to 14 Oregon State points. But he made big plays when the team needed them most, throwing for 175 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-27 passing. He got the ball into the hands of seven different players.
He also ran the option to near-perfection, finishing with 64 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, part of a 278-yard ground game that featured a powerful offensive line opening gaping holes, particularly in the second half. Ed Wesley went for 134 yards and Matthew Tucker tacked on 74 more.
The senior-laden Frogs have all the ingredients to make the BCS exceedingly nervous. The offense is experienced and diverse. The defense proved to be quick and instinctive, as it usually is under Patterson. The Frogs limited Beavers running back Jacquizz Rodgers to 75 yards on 18 carries, and first-time starting quarterback Ryan Katz, while playing well, connected on only 9-of-25 throws and was sacked twice.
Still, Patterson said -- and he seemed to enjoy harping on the underdog, no-respect theme -- the Frogs will still have to prove their worth to the big boys. He made that point clear when, unprovoked, he brought up ESPN "College GameDay" analyst Lee Corso's prediction earlier in the day: Oregon State by three touchdowns.
"Here we are, preseason ranked sixth or seventh and I didn't see Florida get picked as a three-touchdown underdog today. He [Corso] did me a favor. He did my whole team a favor," Patterson said. "Because, as usual, no matter what we do and how we do it, we're always having to prove ourselves, and that's OK with us.
"We'll get ready for Tennessee Tech next week and we'll go prove ourselves. And then we'll go prove ourselves against Baylor and we'll go work down the road. That's where we're going to be. And so, if we've got to do that, we'll do that. We don't care."
The Saturday scoreboard around college football should also make the Frogs feel good. Beyond perhaps No. 1 Alabama, there are simply no apparent powerhouses in the major conferences that threaten to go undefeated and advance to the national title game.
Utah State scared No. 7 Oklahoma in Norman. No. 5 Texas didn't look impressive against Rice. No. 4 Florida was sloppy at home against Miami (Ohio).
Yes, it is only September and it was just one win of 12 TCU must have. But it was the setup game to make dreams possible, and Patterson knew it.
"We've been working on Oregon State a little bit every day since last spring," he said. "We knew how big a game this was."
It was a big one.
And now for the rest of the season.