By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Let's face it, SMU picked a bad year to have a good year.
Coming off consecutive 1-11 seasons and without a bowl game since flight attendants were stewardesses, Danny White quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys and the NCAA handed out its one and only death penalty, the Mustangs quietly earned their sixth win of the season Saturday night at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. SMU players and students rushed the field in celebration after defensive end Taylor Thompson recorded a sack that sealed his team's 35-31 victory over UT-El Paso.
At 6-4, head coach June Jones' Mustangs are almost assuredly headed to a bowl game for the first time since 1984. With two more wins they'll host the Conference USA Championship and a shot at the Liberty Bowl. If not, the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl is expected to come calling.
"In years past, this team lost a lot of close games," Jones said. "Now we're finding ways to win. That credit goes to the chemistry and attitude from inside that locker room. The kids believe."
A winning record. Sniffing a bowl game. Calibrating the GPS for college football relevance. SMU would make a great story, that is, if not for the bigger, better tale being scripted just down the road in Fort Worth.
"This is one of the biggest things to ever happen to our city," Fort Worth mayor Mike Moncrief said last week.
While SMU toasted its modest progress with a mild party, TCU climaxed its weeklong purple party with a 55-28 dismantling of Utah last Saturday night at Amon Carter Stadium that validates its No. 4 national ranking and increases its momentum as being the first non-super conference school to crash college football's national championship game.
TCU has the defense, the quarterback and the overall team to beat anybody, anywhere. Since the Frogs don't have Utah congressmen stumping for them on Capitol Hill or Mack Brown whining for them upon high, I'll crow for them: TCU could beat Texas and Florida and Alabama and...anyone.
Hey America, it's called Frogress. Deal with it.
"All we can do is do our job, and our job is to win every game on our schedule," Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson said last week via the phone in his TCU office. "We run the table and finish undefeated, then I hope the system in place will allow us to play for our spot as one of the best teams in the country."
We all know, however, the BCS is man-made, computer-driven bullshit.
Utah went 13-0 and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season, yet was given no shot to play for a national championship. It's a flawed system steeped in favoritism and founded in deep financial reservoirs coddled and controlled by the bowl chairman and school presidents. Want to know how screwed up college football's highest level is? It remains the only team sport that doesn't decide its national champion on the field via playoff.
TCU, like Utah last year, could very well finish undefeated yet ultimately unsatisfied, bypassed for a spot in the BCS National Championship by a 1-loss team from a bigger conference like the SEC or even the Big 12.
"The system is what it is," Patterson says politically. "Until it changes, we've got to go out and do what it takes to impress the voters and computers."
After a 9-0 start that included impressive wins at Clemson and Brigham Young, TCU transformed Fort Worth into the center of the college football universe and galvanized a community through sports. ESPN's College GameDay set up shop in front of the student union's Frog Fountain. The team debuted new customized Nike uniforms. And, most important, the school's biggest home game in almost 80 years attracted a sellout crowd. Think of the greats of TCU football and you'll think of Davey O'Brien, Bob Lilly and LaDainian Tomlinson. Now you can add to that quarterback Andy Dalton and the class of '09.
TCU has its highest ranking since '56. Its highest profile since, well, forever.
All of the local news stations broadcast live from campus. Helicopters flew overhead Friday night. Moncrief decreed the denizens of Fort Worth support Frog Fever by wearing purple.
Simply put, last Saturday night's game against Utah was Fort Worth's most important sporting event since Annika Sorenstam played golf with the boys at the 2003 Colonial.
"I would compare it to Clemson as far as being one of the better crowds," GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. "We've never been here, and you could tell that football means a lot to them. And TCU football means a lot. By us showing up here, I think it validates to them that they have arrived as being a legitimate, BCS-worthy type of team. This was as good as we've had."
Oh yeah, the game. Let's just say the last performance that kicked that much ass wearing purple was Prince.
Utah was both the last team to beat TCU (last year) and the last opponent to win in Fort Worth ('07). But midway through the second quarter the Frogs led 35-7. Surely the representatives from the Orange and Fiesta bowls were impressed.
Thanks to a crappy TV deal with Versus and some obscure channel called The Mountain, TCU's games are generally harder to find than Jerry Jones' humility. But after a thorough trashing of the nation's 16th-best team, TCU is demanding accountability. Now 10-0, the Frogs seemed destined for a BCS bowl game. But even at 12-0 and Mountain West Conference champions, they would need unlikely losses from the likes of Alabama, Florida, Texas and maybe even Cincinnati to get a shot to play for a national championship.
Boasted Patterson after the blowout of an elite opponent, "If the nation didn't think this was enough style points, I don't know what is."
Patterson isn't a chest-puffing guy predisposed to braggadocio. But in this era of strength of schedule, style points and public outcry, filibustering for your cause is part of the job description. Won't come natural for a coach who slapped his team with the song "I Won't Back Down" from Tom Petty even though most of his players are clueless as to who in the hell Tom Petty is, but Patterson will indeed push his product.
"I've always said we just need to go out and win games," Patterson said. "But if part of the process is to sell your team, then I'll do what it takes. It'll be an honor and quite an accomplishment just to be in the position of debating whether your team is among the best in the country."
While SMU's task is just commencing, TCU's is almost finished. The Horned Frogs play at Wyoming this Saturday before hosting New Mexico in their regular season finale November 28. TCU hasn't enjoyed an undefeated regular season since 1938.
"The biggest thing is, we've got to finish," Patterson said. "I understand how big this is. I've been here. I beat Oklahoma and then lost the next week to SMU."
Sorry, Mustangs, but you couldn't have picked a worse time to have one of your best teams.