PASADENA, Calif. -- After the third-ranked TCU Horned Frogs had defeated the fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgersfair- and-square on the emerald field of the Rose Bowl, even Gordon Gee, the Ohio State athletics director who belittled programs like TCU and Boise State for padding their records against opponents like the “Little Sisters of the Poor,” seemed to have a change of heart.
Wisconsin, after all, was the only team to beat Gee's Buckeyes this season. Reached by the New York Times' Pete Thamel on Saturday night, Gee said: “I’m going to New Orleans tomorrow [where Ohio State will play in the Sugar Bowl], and Antoine’s is a great restaurant. I think they serve crow, and I’ll be eating my portion of that. TCU played a great game, and they deserved to be recognized for that. Obviously, TCU is a great ball team.”
Frogs coach Gary Patterson was asked after the 21-19 New Year's Day victory that boosted TCU its first undefeated and untied season since 1938 if he had a message from Gee. Patterson remained diplomatic.
"I don't have any messages for him," Patterson said. "I make mistakes every day. So what I'm going to do is know that TCU is 13-0. We've won 44 ballgames, this senior class has in the last four years. And know that at any point in time anybody can beat anybody."
TCU's time as the little guy in college football's hierarchy is coming to an end. The Horned Frogs will play one final season in the non-automatic qualifying Mountain West Conference and then join the establishment as a member of the Big East Conference, one of the six power conferences granted automatic access to the BCS.
"I think what we’ve been able to do for the past however many of years and the success that we’ve had, we’ve earned the respect," said senior Andy Dalton, who exits TCU as the school's all-time winningest quarterback. "I think people are really starting to realize how good TCU is and I guess the Big East obviously realized that and wanted us to be a part of their conference, and so I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for TCU."
The Frogs will leave the fight for equality to the Boise State's of the world. Yet, on some level, it would seem the Frogs and Patterson will miss the underdog role, always having to strive for perfection, to take the hard road, to constantly have to prove that they belong. After all, TCU, along with Boise State, have been the ones constantly harrassing the BCS and leading the surge of public animosity toward college football's postseason power structure.
"We’ll always be that," Patterson said of retaining underdog status despite the move up. "Yeah, because we’re in the state of Texas. We’re never going to be compared to the Big East. Just like in the Mountain West, we’re compared to Texas and [Texas] A&M and Texas Tech. That’s how we recruit. We recruit to try to beat the Big 12."
This season the Big East was weakest of the power six. Connecticut, at 8-4 after the regular season, represented the conference in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night and was handled by Big 12 champion Oklahoma, 48-20. Only West Virginia, with four losses, finished the season with fewer than five losses. The Big East sought the Frogs to lift their football profile.
Unless there's a sudden surge by one of the current eight Big East programs, the Frogs could walk into the league in 2012 as favorites to win it and claim the BCS slot.
The lure of the Big East is its automatic berth. Win the conference and you're in. No longer will perfection, which the Frogs have accomplished in consecutive regular seasons, a prerequisite. No longer will an early non-conference loss a season death sentence.
Yet, even there, Patterson found room to quibble.
"As far as a national championship it is, but not playing for a BCS game," Patterson said. "If you’re ultimate goal is playing for a national championship then you’re still tyring to get done what you’re trying to get done. It still means you need to go undefeated and do the things you need to do."