Gary Patterson says he won’t campaign for TCU to be included in the BCS national championship game until the Horned Frogs beat their final two opponents. But If they defeat a respectable San Diego State team tomorrow and a woeful New Mexico team on November 27 to close out back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, then their coach will begin talking about what’s right—and what’s fair.
TCU currently sits at number three in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, behind Oregon and Auburn and one spot ahead of Boise State. All four teams remain undefeated and are poised to make their case to be included in the title game. Patterson may be able to wait until after Thanksgiving to give his stump speech, but we’re not that patient. We want to know now: How good is TCU really?
Are the Horned Frogs talented enough to win the national championship?
Absolutely. Forget what you’ve heard about their numbers being inflated because they play in the Mountain West. Last year’s squad broke through to a BCS game for the first time in school history; this year’s team is even better. Despite the loss of All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes, the defense has actually improved. The Frogs have the number one ranked defense in the country, allowing only 215 yards and an astounding 8.5 points per game. One stretch in October saw TCU shut out their opponents for nearly 11 straight quarters.
Though the Frogs made their national reputation with that type of defense, quarterback Andy Dalton leads an offense that’s ranked in the top ten. The senior from Katy has won more games than any other quarterback in school history. He’s even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week after his biggest game of the year: 355 yards and three touchdowns in a 47-7 dismantling of No. 5 Utah.
So they’re good. But will they get the chance to prove how good?
If Oregon and Auburn each win their remaining games (and remember that Auburn will have to play in the SEC championship game as well), then the answer is no. The Ducks and Tigers would play in the national title game and the Horned Frogs would head to a BCS bowl for the second straight year. TCU must hope for a loss from one of those teams. Auburn seems like the most likely candidate, with controversy swirling around their star quarterback and a tougher schedule to close the year.
But there’s a darker, if somewhat less likely, scenario. TCU closes the season with little TV attention and no marquee matchups. Beginning tonight, Boise plays three nationally televised games in a row, including one against a Top 25 team. If the Broncos run the table with the whole country watching, that could be enough for them to move past TCU in the polls. Style points count, and because of the bowl system, the NCAA is littered with teams that deserved a shot but found themselves on the outside looking in (think Auburn in 2004).
Why are the Frogs winning, when many big-time programs (Texas, Florida, Texas, USC, and Texas) are struggling?
Part of it is the cyclical nature of college football. Dynasties don’t last as long as they used to because incoming football talent is spread more evenly across teams.
But much of TCU’s success can be tied to the detailed preparation and exacting nature of the coaching staff. Patterson is known as an extremely hard worker and that attitude has filtered down through the coaching staff to the players. The team has been built the way a lot of great teams are built: experience on offense and bruising defense. They limit their mistakes, capitalize on yours, and come away with the win. At the end of the day, his staff has been able to get the absolute most out of their talent week in and week out.
So is Gary Patterson the secret to TCU’s success?
There are plenty of numbers that illustrate Patterson’s prowess. He’s closing in on 100 wins since taking over in December 2000. His record over the last three seasons is 33-3, and he hasn’t lost a conference game since 2008. But we’ll yield the definitive assessment to author and sportswriter Dan Jenkins, who has followed TCU since the 1930’s. Last year, Jenkins said , “Patterson is TCU’s greatest coach since Dutch Meyer. He lives and eats football.”
Meyer won 109 games as the Horned Frogs’ coach, including national championships in 1935 and 1938. One more standout season and Patterson will certainly break that mark. The only question now is, will he get the chance to prove that he can win a title as well?