TCU, Patterson set to climb the mountain

DALLAS -- Texas Christian had the shortest commute to Big 12 media days.

But the private school in Fort Worth, Texas, certainly had the longest trip in finally making it here.

"Obviously it has been a long journey for us," said TCU coach Gary Patterson. "We have been through a lot of different conferences along the way."

Elizabeth Taylor had fewer marriages. Seriously, just in the past 18 months TCU divorced and tied the knot with three different conferences. But the key is the Horned Frogs married up each time -- from the Mountain West to a quick annulment with the Big East and finally, now, with the Big 12. The line for the money dance queues to the left.

Now as for two-stepping through the conference like it has every other on Patterson's watch? Well, that is not so likely. When starting offensive guard Blaize Foltz is blinded by the lights just coming up the escalator in the Westin Hotel at Big 12 media days ("I got taken aback for a second," said Foltz), that's a pretty good indication there might be a slight learning curve. Or in the words of Patterson, a mountain to climb.

"When you're sitting on the side of the mountain you don't rest," Patterson said. "We've got to keep climbing the mountain."

There are more than a few issues that could stymie the Horned Frogs' ascent, the first of which is though the Big 12 is not Everest (read: SEC), it certainly reaches higher into the clouds than anything TCU has scaled before.

"You've got to be prepared," said TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga. "The speed is going to be different."

Everything is going to be different: opponents, stadiums and, oh yeah, money. Texas Christian now joins Texas Tech and Iowa State as the three teams with the smallest budgets in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs had an overall budget of $56 million according to their 2010-11 equity in athletics disclosure documents. Point of reference: Texas has an overall athletic budget of $150 million.

"That's OK," Patterson said. "If you look at what we've had to accomplish and the facilities, we were walking a mile and a half to practice 15 years ago when [LaDainian Tomlinson] was our starting running back. And now our practice fields are right outside. So there's a lot of things that stand in front of us but I would say as a university and as a group totally that we do feel like that we're a little bit more stable in what we're doing."

But they are still standing in a corner when it comes to recognition in the conference and really in the state.

"You don't see a lot of TCU shirts in stores," said Foltz. "We have a UT store in Fort Worth. That's kind of how it goes. You gotta show them respect."

The well-worn mantra of lack of respect is what TCU has stacked on its shoulder this year.

"Everybody expects us not to be able to handle the grind," Foltz said. "When you hear that you just kind of nod and say, 'Thank you.'"

"People said: 'You're not going to be playing New Mexico anymore. You're not going to be playing Vegas anymore,'" Patterson continued. "Yeah, but those were 50-point ball games. What's reality? Because all you have to do is win by one point to get to where you need to go."

Where Patterson understands he needs to go is back to the high schools in Texas. And he has already started to make inroads there. Although TCU only has one four-star commitment in the 2013 class (Paul Whitmill a linebacker from Bastrop, Texas/Bastrop), Patterson said he has been able to be more judicious in the level of athlete he selects and that a higher quality of athlete on campus than he has in the past.

That, of course, is the future. For the present Patterson has to maintain the mindset that he has established in 13 years with the Horned Frogs.

"… If I said, well, now we're in the big time, then what I'm saying the Rose Bowl game didn't count, that playing in the Fiesta Bowl didn't count, winning all the ball games -- I mean, this senior class is 36-3,'' Patterson said. "We all talk about wins, but the bottom line to it is their three losses are to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl to Baylor by two points and SMU in overtime, two rivalry games. So they understand how to win.

"How does that equivocate and how does it go forward?" he continued. "We don't know. We'll have to go prove it just like we have to go prove it every year.''