Monday, December 5, 2011
Nothing to feel blue about for TCU
By Jeff Caplan ESPNDallas.com
In accepting his team's invitation Sunday night to play Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl in lovely San Diego, TCU Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson didn't bother to lament how close his team came to a third consecutive BCS berth and a date with storied Michigan one short year after defeating mighty Wisconsin in the fabled Rose Bowl.
"Are we disappointed we didn't get where we wanted to?" Patterson said. "Well, it's our own fault. There's nobody to blame but TCU because we had two losses."
The agony is that one loss would have turned the trick that no one thought possible when this season started with a new quarterback, an unheralded senior class and enough young, untested players to turn Patterson's perennially hoarse voice into full-on laryngitis.
TCU wrapped up its third straight Mountain West championship with Saturday's trouncing of UNLV.
TCU finished No. 18 in the BCS standings when it needed No. 16 to earn an automatic BCS berth. The 50-48 loss at Baylor, which finished the season ranked No. 12 in the BCS and with nine wins for the first time since 1986 and perhaps the Heisman Trophy winner, is easily digestible.
But, had the Frogs not lost at home to SMU in overtime more than two months ago, TCU would be celebrating a Sugar Bowl berth to go with its Fiesta Bowl trip after the 2009 season and last season's historic run to a Rose Bowl championship and No. 2 national ranking.
"Not taking away anything from SMU; you're playing at home, you don't expect your team to go do that," Patterson said. "Sometimes you've got to learn to deal with success. Sometimes [we think] at TCU we're just going to go walk out there and we're going to play the way we play. I don't know if they truly learned it at Baylor, but they did learn it after SMU, and ever since SMU, we've moved forward."
Yet, as crestfallen -- and perhaps these days spoiled -- Frogs fans might want to curse that strange game against June Jones' Mustangs for ruining an early Mardi Gras, the 40-33 loss is also what ultimately put TCU in the position to cross its fingers when the BCS rankings were released Sunday night.
After that game, as the Frogs disbelievingly shook their heads at a 3-2 record, more losses in five games than the program endured in the prior two seasons combined, everything changed.
Most noticeable was the switch in Patterson. Mr. Nice Guy -- and really he tried a more patient, low-key tact with his young team -- left the building.
"We figured out quick that losing two of our first five games, we became humbled real quick," senior fullback Luke Shivers said. "Practice became a little more intense. Coach P became a little more intense, which is exactly what we needed. It's been a great ride since then, so you can't complain."
It's been a perfect 7-0 since then with six wins coming by 10 points or more. The only one that didn't was the last-minute, 36-35 victory at double-digit favorite Boise State, the No. 5 team in the country at the time and again the BCS darling.
The TCU victory put it in control for a third consecutive Mountain West Conference championship that the Frogs wrapped up with Saturday's trouncing of UNLV, the Frogs' record 24th consecutive league victory.
And so the Frogs won't play in the Sugar Bowl. But Patterson won't throw a pity party. If TCU fans want to feel badly for themselves they should take a long look to the east and at those Mustangs that somehow ruined their New Year's travel plans.
Since the Ponies left Amon G. Carter Stadium with a rare triumph over a ranked opponent, they finished 3-4 and failed to make it back to the Conference USA championship game. After the school's administration pleaded for acceptance into an expanded Big 12 earlier this year, it is the Frogs that will be making the quantum leap for 2012.
To make things worse, SMU now fears the loss of its coach to Arizona State. Meanwhile, Texas A&M fires its coach and Patterson, whose style on and off the field would fit the SEC-bound Aggies to a T, truly believes the better job lies in Fort Worth and not in College Station.
So don't feel blue, Frogs fans, that the Sugar Bowl isn't in the cards after this fourth consecutive season with 10 victories.
Next season, TCU truly goes big time and in an ironic twist, it can thank the Mustangs for the wake-up call that set the tone for the rest of this season and the big move up that Patterson has spent half a season preaching about, and did so again after accepting the bid to the Poinsettia bowl.
"Do you want to have an eight-game winning streak or a one-game losing streak?" Patterson told his team as a warning shot not to underestimate the WAC champions out of Ruston, La. "Do you want to be preseason ranked or do you not want to be ranked at all? Because that's what's in jeopardy for the team that returns next year."
For fans of the Frogs, one-time members of the WAC as well as SMU's C-USA, the Dec. 21 bowl game might not be the Fiesta or the Rose or the Sugar, but so be it.
Just relax and take some time to smell the Poinsettias along the way.
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.