The coach-speak mantra that all games count the same isn’t true.TCU didn’t have to beat LSU to accomplish its 2013 goal.Coach Gary Patterson wanted to win the game, but he stated multiple times before the opener that his main priority was playing well while surviving without any major injuries.Mission accomplished.The 24th-ranked Horned Frogs’ Big 12 Conference opener against Texas Tech at 6:30 p.m. Thursday is huge for both teams, but for TCU, a team expected to contend for the league title, it seems like a must-win situation.Patterson and his players didn’t shy away from the high stakes during Tuesday’s media luncheon.“It’s the first game in the Big 12,” All-American cornerback Jason Verrett said. “Make a statement. If we want to win the Big 12, we have to start 1-0 here.”And that’s what it boils down to. The Big 12 champion isn’t likely to go undefeated in 2013, but more than two losses is going to keep most teams out of the hunt. The Frogs (1-1) have tough road games at Oklahoma (Oct. 5), Oklahoma State (Oct. 19) and won’t get pillow fights on the road in November at Iowa State or Kansas State either. That means a loss at Texas Tech, a team with a new head coach in Kliff Kingsbury and a freshman walk-on quarterback in Baker Mayfield, would put a serious dent in TCU’s title hopes.“It’s big because it’s the next one,” Patterson said before adding, “It’s very big. One thing about short weeks is you don’t have a lot of time to think or talk about it.”TCU lost a shootout a year ago at home to the Red Raiders, 56-53, in triple overtime in Trevone Boykin’s third start at quarterback after replacing Casey Pachall. “I’d buy a ticket,” Patterson said. “That’s just the way this league is. Until that last second goes off the clock you just need to hold onto your hats. I don’t know why someone wouldn’t go to a game in the Big 12.”For a defensive-minded coach such as Patterson, however, preparing for an uptempo offensive juggernaut isn’t exactly fun. “They have a couple wide receivers that can make you miss. They can put them in the backfield. They can run fly sweeps or jail-break screens,” Patterson said. “When you have guys who can beat people one-on-one, as a defensive guy, that always causes you nightmares because you hate being in space and they do a nice job with that.”And through two games, no one has made it look easier than Mayfield, who attended a TCU recruiting camp but was never offered a scholarship by the Frogs.“I know in high school he was a winner,” Patterson said. “He won a lot of ballgames, threw for a lot of yards, comes from a great family. I’ve heard he really wants to beat us. It’s just one of those situations. We didn’t offer Johnny Manziel either. Sometimes guys have it factors. They’re good players that when you put them on Saturday they play well and they do the things they need to do.”Patterson compared passing on Mayfield to the recruitment of Andy Dalton, who wasn’t highly sought out of Katy in 2005. “He only had one or two offers, and he turned out right. Why didn’t more people recruit Andy Dalton? Sometimes you win those battles, sometimes you don’t,” he said.Mayfield is third in the nation with 780 yards passing and hasn’t been intercepted in 90 attempts.“He’s a pretty athletic guy,” Verrett said. “He’s good on the run and he throws pretty well and he’s got pretty good receivers out there. It’s going to be an exciting game.”For Patterson, AT&T Jones Stadium is the site for one of his most embarrassing performances at TCU, a 70-35 loss in 2004 to Mike Leach, whose offense scored 56 unanswered points after the Frogs jumped to a 21-0 lead. Two years later, TCU shut the Red Raiders down with a 12-3 win in Fort Worth.“They’ve scored 102 points in two ballgames, so as usual, they can really move it, and they’re playing well on defense,” he said. “They make you play the full field, which makes it a little more difficult. You still have to be physical. They’re not going to go sideways if they can go straight ahead.”For TCU center Joey Hunt, Thursday night on ESPN is about TCU making a statement. Not a statement to Texas Tech, but to the Big 12: That the Frogs intend on taking the league title.“It’s going to be huge,” he said. “You have to win all your Big 12 games to be the champion. It’s an away game against a very good opponent so it’s going to be big to go out there and get a W.”Tech plans a blackout for Thursday’s game, something that just gets Verrett more fired up.“It’s fun to go into somebody else’s environment just to see how many people hate you and want you to lose,” he said. “It’s fun to play with a chip on your shoulder. Going into a hostile environment, they want you to lose. That’s the best feeling, to go in there and take something away from somebody else.”TCU’s four league wins in 2012 were all on the road. To win a Big 12 title, they’ll have to do that again, starting Thursday in Lubbock.
Stefan Stevenson 817-390-7760 Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs