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Merrill's TD salvages Frogs' win

DALLAS (AP) -- The BCS dream had already been shattered and there
is a new debate brewing about where TCU will end up for a bowl

Still, the No. 19 Horned Frogs finished the regular season on a
positive note.

Robert Merrill ran for 98 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown
with 7:18 left, in a 20-13 victory over winless SMU on Saturday
that gave the Frogs (11-1) their most wins since their national
title season in 1938.

"I've never been one to look back," TCU coach Gary Patterson
said. "I believe in looking forward. Losing is a disease, and the
sooner you cure it, the better off you are."

The Frogs lost their chance to play in one of the four big-money
games that make up the Bowl Championship Series, or even the
Liberty Bowl, when they lost 40-28 at Southern Mississippi on Nov.

Southern Miss clinched the Conference USA title and Liberty Bowl
berth with a 38-21 win Saturday at East Carolina. That means TCU
will play in one of three other bowls: GMAC, Fort Worth (Dec. 23)
or Hawaii (Dec. 25).

GMAC officials, who get the second pick from C-USA teams,
extended an invitation Saturday to the Horned Frogs to play Dec. 18
against Miami of Ohio.

TCU officials have indicated their preference not to play in
that game because it is during final exams. On Saturday, TCU
athletic director Eric Hyman said C-USA athletic directors and the
conference commissioner will discuss the situation in a conference
call and hope to have a resolution in the next few days.

The Frogs have played in the GMAC Bowl twice before, when it
didn't conflict with tests.

"We're not scared of Miami of Ohio or anyone else," Patterson
said. "Mobile's been good to us, but we have to look and see
what's best for us."

Merrill's game-clinching run came on the last of his 15 carries
when he took a handoff to the right, sidestepped into an opening
and ran untouched into the end zone. His 1,081 rushing yards are a
TCU freshman record.

After SMU (0-12) was forced to punt, the Mustangs were about to
get the ball back when quarterback Brandon Hassell ran just 6 yards
on third-and-18. But defensive tackle Allan Adami was called for a
15-yard facemask penalty, giving the Frogs a first down and
allowing them to run out the final two minutes.

It was the first time the Mustangs lost every game in a season.
Their only other winless seasons were 1916 (0-8-2) and 1960

"You can't run from it. That's what we are," SMU coach Phil
Bennett said. "It's not about what you're going through, it's
where you're headed. I think today showed just how thin the line is
between winning and losing."

SMU is 39-116-3 in the 15 seasons after serving the NCAA's only
death penalty. The only winning season in that span was 6-5 in
1997, but the Mustangs didn't go to a bowl after losing their
season finale 21-18 to a TCU team that had been 0-10.

TCU won its record fifth straight game in the rivalry game
between the Division I-A teams in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The
Frogs have a 39-38-7 series lead.

"We just wanted to play hard and beat SMU," Merrill said.
"The Southern Miss loss was tough, we were just focusing on
winning this game."

TCU took a 13-10 lead when Nick Browne kicked a 42-yard field
goal in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. That ended a
12-play drive on which the Frogs took their first snap from the 1
after a punt and a false start penalty.

The Mustangs tied the game at 13 on Chris McMurtray's 22-yard
field goal. They weren't able to convert first-and-goal from the 9
after Chris Phillips' 53-yard screen pass to Keylon Kincade, and
TCU responded with its winning drive.

Kincade ran for 70 yards, finishing with 1,280 this season and
fifth on SMU's career list with 3,038. Eric Dickerson holds the
school record with 4,450 yards.

Hassell completed 18 of 26 passes for 180 yards. Reggie Harrell
had just three catches for 36 yards, but his 905 yards this season
are a school record.

D.D. Lee's interception helped the Mustangs tie it at 10 just
before halftime. After faking a handoff and rolling right, Hassell
threw a pass right at the linebacker.

Three plays later, with TCU defenders heavily pursing Kincade,
Phillips pulled the ball back and ran to the left sideline, diving
into the end zone to complete the 17-yard score.

The Horned Frogs got another chance, but Browne's 54-yard field
goal attempt was wide right. His made 33-yarder and missed
44-yarder ended the previous two TCU drives.

SMU led 3-0 after McMurtray's 33-yard field goal capped an
opening 77-yard drive.

Hassell's 15-yard TD run, on an option counter that left the
entire right side of the field open for him, put TCU ahead 7-3.

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