UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas -- The magnitude of each game, how his team performs from kickoff to final gun, how much it wins by and how it all reflects in those awful polls is not lost on TCU's Gary Patterson when he's running down the BCS. No matter how badly he'd like everyone to believe otherwise.
How else to interpret Patterson's whirlwind commentary after his fourth-ranked TCU Horned Frogs -- beat up and exhausted -- survived a Friday night fight at upstart SMU, 41-24?
Dripping in sweat, Patterson emerged in a doorway outside the visitor's locker room at Gerald J. Ford Stadium studying a box score that showed SMU had gained more total yards (361), more rushing yards (192, with Zach Line going for 139) and surrendered fewer yards (375) than any opponent in the Frogs' four-game nonconference schedule.
Patterson gazed up and asked for questions, but he didn't bother to wait for one. He had something to say.
"For us, No. 1, we're 4-0. We took SMU's best shot. You got to give SMU a lot of credit. They came and got ready to play. They were physical, they played at home, they got ready to go, we took their best shot and we came out a victor," Patterson said, his voice booming and hoarse at the same time.
"People are going to ask me, 'Well, it was on TV, what do you think? Are you going to stay No. 4 in the rankings?' I have no control over that. ... I'm very happy with my team. Am I disappointed in some of the things we did? Yes. But I am happy because we get to 4-0. It is so hard to do that in this day and time, especially when you play the kind of nonconference schedule we just got done playing."
No, the polls aren't on Gary's mind. Not at all.
And that leads to the obvious question: Will TCU's somewhat lackluster yet gritty showing on ESPN, in which senior quarterback Andy Dalton threw two picks that led to a 17-14 deficit early in the third quarter, drop it in the polls?
The Frogs entered their first true road game of the season ranked No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 5 in the USA Today coaches poll. Folks in Austin surely can cite precedent. The Longhorns dropped one spot after each of its past two wins, including last week's road win at Texas Tech, falling behind the Frogs to No. 7.
If No. 5 Oregon (No. 6 in coaches poll) goes on the road Saturday and soundly defeats Arizona State, why wouldn't pollsters drop the Frogs in favor of the Ducks?
Patterson noted that he had already told his players in the locker room not to worry about what they can't control.
"It's like I told the kids, if they do, they do," Patterson said. "All we need to worry now about is to get to 5-0 and that's all I'm going to worry about."
It all speaks to the insanity of college football. Patterson's team was coming off a 45-10 whipping of Baylor on Saturday, a team that came to Fort Worth with a chip on its shoulder. TCU ended it in the first 10 minutes.
But again, as the folks in Austin can attest, it seems that simply winning is no longer good enough. And that's a major issue for the Frogs, who, along with No. 3 Boise State, are raising the stakes yet again. Another BCS appearance is no longer the ultimate destination. A spot in the national championship game is, and a drop just one spot in the polls can prove fatal.
So Patterson campaigned Friday night. He defended his team's performance as valiant against a crosstown rival that wanted this one badly, and, doubly significant, the opponent was a second Texas private school within six days "that wants to be us" and played like it, at least for a half in front of a stadium-record crowd.
"This is one of those football games that you came in here, from the very first they were calling us out, they wanted it to be a sellout, they were going door-to-door, their kids were talking all week, our kids didn't say anything and we found a way to come back in the second half and win by a pretty substantial margin," Patterson said.
"And we didn't play as well as we needed to, but I really don't want to say that because for the simple reason, you know me, I want to give SMU credit. They played hard. Their kids did what they needed to do.
They're going to win a lot of football games, you wait and see."
When SMU cornerback Sterling Moore stepped in front of Dalton's first pass of the second half and took it to the TCU 2-yard line to set up a one-play touchdown for a three-point Pony lead, the upset antennae was raised nationwide.
It lowered quickly, though, when Jeremy Kerley returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to set up a quick, 13-yard touchdown drive.
Despite playing the second half without top running back Ed Wesley, who suffered a concussion, TCU took control from there, going up 28-17. Then, with help from a second SMU special teams blunder, the score was 35-17 early in the fourth.
"Whether we win by 20 or one point, he's always happy with a win," Kerley said of his coach. "But, if you go back and critique us, we had a lot of mistakes so you can't be happy with that. ... The polls will take care of themselves. I can't really talk about that. You can only control what you can control."