TCU coach Gary Patterson prefers not to look too deeply into the Horned Frogs' turnaround after a 3-2 start.
His avowed declaration a month ago to go back to the old school way of doing things, to show his players a whole new level of intensity in practice, seems like another season. Besides, he's not sure he changed his style anyway.
"That was a long time ago," he said. "Whatever it was it worked. These guys have grown up and they've worked hard. I didn't play last Saturday, they did. I don't want the story to be that I changed."
Most likely, he didn't. Patterson was as fiery and intense throughout August camp and into the first month of the season as he ever was.
What has changed is younger players are now seasoned, and have caught up to the speed of the game. Blown assignments on defense are happening much less frequently.
"I said at the beginning of the year that we were going to be a better football team at the end of the year," Patterson said. "That part is true. Now we need to finish."
TCU, No. 19 in the BCS standings, meets Colorado State (3-6, 1-3 in the Mountain West) at 2:30 p.m. today at Amon G. Carter Stadium. After a bye next week, the Frogs (8-2, 5-0), finish the regular season at home against UNLV (2-7, 1-3). Their third consecutive conference title is there for the taking. TCU has never won three league titles in a row.
"No one thought after the SMU loss, or even after Baylor, we'd be sitting in this situation," Patterson said. "Now that we have this opportunity, we don't need to squander it."
TCU's five-game winning streak was propelled by a rock-bottom feeling Oct. 1 after the Frogs lost at home in overtime to SMU. If the season-opening loss at Baylor was a cold splash of water to the face, the loss to the Mustangs was a splash of cold reality.
"The SMU game taught us that you have to show up every Saturday," senior safety Johnny Fobbs said. "Just because we're TCU we're not entitled to anything. That entitlement kind of softens you. It brought us back to reality. It grounded us."
Now the Frogs are two wins and a Houston loss from potentially earning their third consecutive BCS bowl berth. More BCS machinations must take place for this to happen, but a week ago, with TCU out of the BCS top 25, it was not even on the radar.
Since giving up 40 points to SMU the TCU defense has held opponents to 19.4 points a game. Even Boise State's high-powered offense was held to four touchdowns last week (with one TD on an interception return).
Patterson and his coaches never panicked, even while a few players were acknowledging doubt in themselves.
"Not from our coaches," he said. "We've been together for a long time. We understood [the team] needed to grow up. It's how you answer the bell. We've been very lucky that when a guy has been in a lull, there's been somebody there to play well in that position."
Said Fobbs: "He's honest about everything. After the SMU game he said we need to get back to what we've been doing and how TCU was built."
That means never being satisfied, never quitting.
"We have a chance to win a conference championship and I'm not overly happy about it, which means that's a positive," Patterson said. "That means we haven't reached our potential.
"The story is we have a chance to get to a BCS game. We have a chance to win a conference championship. Nobody thought we had a chance. We have to finish. That's the story."