FORT WORTH, Texas -- Something is missing now that TCU has finally busted into the Bowl Championship Series: a chance to prove themselves against a team from one of the major conferences with automatic access to the big-money games.
Instead, the third-ranked Horned Frogs (12-0) will go to the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4 to play the same team they beat in a pre-Christmas bowl game last year. Another undefeated BCS buster, No. 6 Boise State.
"It's kind of like a little rematch or whatever," receiver Jeremy Kerley said. "Even for the Boise fans, I'm pretty sure they don't want to see that, for us to have to play them. It's kind of unfortunate on both parts."
There was no obvious mention of Boise State as the opponent when the Frogs' BCS destination was revealed to more than 3,000 fans attending a bowl-watch party on campus Sunday night. Many had earlier waited in line to get autographs from players.
Boise State got its chance to play one of the major-conference teams in its other BCS appearance, beating Oklahoma in a memorable 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Then last year's BCS buster, Mountain West foe Utah, got to play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Utes won to complete a 13-0 season and finished No. 2 in the AP poll.
That was the same kind of game TCU envisioned it might get after its first undefeated regular season since 1938, the season of its only AP national championship.
"I figured because of what Utah started last year, maybe we'd have a chance to play for it this year," running back Joseph Turner said.
"The thing is, we've played (Boise)," senior receiver Bart Johnson said. "I'd love to play somebody like a Florida or someone like that where we could really showcase and show the nation what we're all about. "
Everybody will instead get the third postseason matchup between TCU and Boise State (13-0) in seven seasons.
TCU won 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl last year, handing the Broncos their only loss the past two seasons. Boise State won 34-31 in the 2003 Fort Worth Bowl that was played on the TCU campus.
This time, it will be the first undefeated BCS matchup outside the national championship game. It is the first time two teams from conferences without automatic bids to the BCS have played in the five big-money bowls in the same season.
"We're just happy that we're going to a BCS game," senior cornerback Rafael Priest said. "We'd love to go against a team on a bigger stage. (Boise) is a good team. They're 13-0. You don't come across that too much, so you've got to give them all their respect. Both are BCS busters. We're going to take our opportunity and make the best of it."
The Frogs have won a school-record 14 games in a row, second only to Texas' 17-game streak. They won on the road against Clemson and Virginia in September and have won their last seven games by at least 27 points, including games against No. 15 BYU and No. 23 Utah.
And they came oh so close Saturday to things falling into place for a possible shot at being the first outsider to play for the BCS national championship, a day of game watching that quarterback Andy Dalton described as "a roller coaster of emotions."
First, No. 17 Pittsburgh blew a 21-point lead against No. 4 Cincinnati, missed an extra point with 1:36 left and lost by a single point when the Bearcats scored the winning touchdown a minute later.
Later that night, Nebraska led Texas 12-10 with 1:44 left, and was storming the field in celebration of an apparent upset in the Big 12 championship game when Colt McCoy threw an incomplete pass as the clock ticked to :00. Except officials reviewed the play, put a second back on and the Longhorns kicked a game-winning field goal.
"My heart just dropped once they put that second back on," Turner said.
"My heart was about to thump out of my chest," Johnson said. "It was unbelievable just to know we were that close."
Texas will play SEC champion Alabama in the BCS national title game, which guarantees that one of them will finish No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll. Voters in other polls, though, aren't obligated to vote the Texas-Bama winner as their top team.
Frogs coach Gary Patterson, who moved his team up from fourth to second in his latest coaches' poll vote, has already reminded his team that they can still win an AP championship. They can also put themselves in position to start higher in the polls next season, when they lose only six senior starters. TCU was 17th in this year's AP preseason poll.
"If we win convincingly, there are other polls that can still say we're national champions," Turner said. "So we've just got to go out and play our best. But it hurts to be that close and not be able to play for it."