The 2009 squad did the unexpected. The 2010 team did the extraordinary. What label might we slap on TCU's 2011 team, especially its 19 seniors, who have won more games (45) than any class in school history? How about resilient? Overachieving? Gritty?
All of those are appropriate, especially after starting 3-2 with potentially devastating emotional losses to Baylor and at home to longtime rival SMU.
The 18th-ranked Horned Frogs (9-2, 6-0 in the Mountain West) resurrected their season after the overtime loss to the Mustangs by winning six consecutive games, including an instant classic at Boise State. With a win against UNLV (2-9, 1-5) at 1:30 p.m. today at Amon G. Carter Stadium, the Frogs will win their third consecutive outright league title, a first for the program.
"It's really amazing, if you think about it, considering this was supposed to be a down year or a rebuilding year with a lot of young players," linebacker and Arlington Martin grad Kris Gardner said. "This team grew up after the SMU game."
The 2011 season may end up being one of the most impressive for Gary Patterson's coaching staff. Last season's Rose Bowl-winning team, by Patterson's own admission, hardly needed the day-to-day coaching with leaders such as Andy Dalton, Tejay Johnson and Jake Kirkpatrick. Those players, along with other seniors, wouldn't allow the team to go off the rails.
This year, with a young quarterback, new-look offensive line and an inexperienced secondary, the team's leadership was in question. After two losses in the first month of the season, even the heartiest of Frogs fans wondered just how much of a step back this season would be.
"I'll remember all of them for what they did this year," Patterson said. "Nobody gave them a chance to do this. No one gave them a chance to win 11 games. You really have to give credit to the senior class and really the whole football team for where we started and now where we're finishing."
This group of 19 seniors, including 10 starters, does not have the name recognition of past groups, but it has won more games than any class in TCU history. It's the fourth consecutive season the senior class has set a standard. If the Frogs win their last two games and finish with 47 career wins, next year's group will have to win 12 games to keep the string alive.
"This year we don't have the big names like Andy and Jake and Marcus [Cannon] -- we have Tank [Carder]," senior fullback Luke Shivers said. "People on the outside had low expectations for us and might've not thought we'd do as well as we have. I think it was motivating. Hopefully, the young guys will take that and [remember] it doesn't matter what everybody else says going into the Big 12 next year. Believe in yourself and you'll be all right."
The seniors will be honored before today's game, releasing a flood of emotions for Shivers and Gardner.
"I think once I shake coach P's hand and walk out the emotions will kick in," Shivers said. "It's been a fun ride. This year, especially, has been fun because the past two years everybody almost expected us to win. This year people didn't really know, only us, the people within the program, knew what we could do. Just proving that we are a good program and we are a good team this year -- that has been fun."