TCU football coach Gary Patterson began his media luncheon with a joke. He wondered aloud if Saturday's game at Boise State, which is rumored to be headed for the Big East, could be moved back to Amon G. Carter Stadium.
He got a big laugh, but later made it clear that he thought it was "ironic" if Boise State bails on the Mountain West after the league switched the site of the game last winter after TCU announced its plans to leave the league "to make sure the Mountain West was taken care of."
Home-field advantage is critical in big games, especially with a team such as fifth-ranked Boise State (8-0, 3-0 in the MWC). The Broncos have won 35 consecutive games at home.
"Obviously the way we've played at home and the way they play at home it gives an advantage to somebody," Patterson said. "I just felt we tried to handle things with class as a program for the Mountain West, and I thought we'd be treated differently. But it's still what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. Now we're going to try to win the conference title this Saturday in Boise against a really, really good football team."
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TCU (7-2, 4-0) is the decided underdog when the teams meet at 2:30 p.m. at Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho. The Broncos are unquestionably the toughest opponent on the Frogs' schedule, whether the game is played here or in Boise.
But what if the Frogs were headed to Manhattan, Kan., this weekend? Or Stillwater, Okla.? Or Austin?
When the Frogs compete in the Big 12 next season the competition each week rises dramatically. Instead of two or three opponents such as Boise State (or Utah in year's past) being clearly marked as big-time gut checks, TCU will have them every week. Patterson has repeatedly made this point to his players and the media since TCU announced it was joining the Big 12 next July. He reiterated it again Tuesday.
"We have to learn as a program that it's not just three or four big games on the schedule once you get into the [conference] season," Patterson said. "Every week you have to be ready to go. And Boise State is one of those kinds of teams. There's a reason why they're No. 5 in the nation. I'm not sure they shouldn't be higher."
Next fall TCU will face a gauntlet of gut checks from week to week. At the moment, five Big 12 teams are in the BCS Top 25 standings -- No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 14 Kansas State, No. 16 Texas, and No. 25 Baylor. Patterson has heard the chatter from certain media and fan quarters that TCU will be hard-pressed to win as easily in the new league. It's even keeping him up at night.
"Your mind is not as clear when you go to bed," he said. "What do I have to do to stop [offenses] in the Big 12? Right now I think the average team is giving up 30 points a game. Can you make people kick field goals? That will be our goal this spring."
Those predicting failure for the Frogs this weekend and next fall also get the competitive juices flowing, Patterson added.
"That gives you more energy, if you have drive," Patterson said. "I hear it out there, 'Oh, they're going to lose more games; now that they're in the Big 12 it's not going to come as fast.' That's all you needed to tell me."
TCU's success the past 10 seasons has changed the perception of the program and fans' expectations have changed along the way. An 8-5 season was once acceptable. A 31-20 win despite five turnovers at Wyoming used to be fine, Patterson said.
"Thank goodness we've finally gotten to a place where that's an ugly win," he said, "because it could have been an ugly loss. That's the standard we've gotten to here, and we don't want the standard to be any less than that. For us to have a chance to win a championship in the Big 12 next year then those are the kinds of standards we need to keep."
"We're not going up there [just] to play well," Patterson said. "We respect Boise as much as anybody. We understand what they bring to the table. We understand how hard it is to go there. We're not going to shy away from it. If you just want to play against people who maybe aren't as good as you talent-wise, that gets pretty boring. It's the same thing going into the Big 12. Did my job get harder? Yes, but why would you want it any different?"