TCU finds out tonight whether the 2011 season ends with the sweet taste of sugar.
The Horned Frogs, who finished the regular season with a 56-9 thumping of UNLV on Saturday in front of a rain-soaked crowd of 32,012 at Amon G. Carter Stadium, could find themselves in their third consecutive Bowl Championship Series bowl after Houston lost to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game.
The bottom line is this: TCU, ranked No. 18 in the BCS standings, needs to move up at least two spots to earn an automatic bid to a BCS bowl, likely the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3 in New Orleans. The final standings are announced at 7:15 tonight on ESPN.
TCU would earn the bid even if ranked behind Houston and Boise State (ranked No. 7) in Sunday's rankings per the BCS guidelines that require non-automatic qualifying teams to be conference champs. Boise finished second to the Frogs in the Mountain West and Houston finished behind Southern Miss.
But said team must be ranked in the top 16, which requires the Frogs (10-2, 7-0 in the MWC) to move up two spots.
TCU coach Gary Patterson declined to champion his team's bona fides, but openly questioned why 14th-ranked Georgia (10-3), which lost the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday to LSU 42-10, would remain ahead of the Frogs in the rankings. Georgia opened with two losses, including to Boise State, which TCU beat on the road.
"Because if you're holding it against me that I lost two early ballgames, why aren't you going to hold it against Georgia?" Patterson asked. "It's the same scenario. It doesn't matter what conference you play in, the key is how do you finish? We tell kids all the time, it's how you do things in November."
Regardless, the fact that TCU is sitting in this position after a 3-2 start, is a remarkable recovery. The Frogs did not appear in the BCS standings until entering at No. 19 on Nov. 13 after the Frogs' 36-35 win at Boise State, which was ranked fifth at the time.
"To me, that was a win that should have jumped us higher than it did," Patterson said. "We're a lot better football team than we were at the start of the year. It goes to show you how much respect that we've earned from where we came from five or six years ago. I think it says a lot."
CBSsports.com BCS expert Jerry Palm gives TCU about a 50-50 shot at moving into the top 16. No. 17 Baylor beating Texas did not help the Frogs because the Bears will move up, if anything. It is doubtful Houston would drop 11 spots and fall behind TCU. Again, it's not about Houston being ranked higher than the Cougars, but about the Frogs being in the top 16.
Other teams TCU could pass in the rankings: No. 13 Michigan State, which lost to No. 15 Wisconsin, and 10th-ranked Oklahoma, which lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State. But would the Sooners (9-3) drop seven spots and behind TCU?
"I will be interested to see the voting," Patterson said. "I declined to vote this year because we were changing conferences and I didn't want anybody to think there was any bias. So I'll be interested to see everybody else's vote, because I'll probably be a guy that will be back voting someday myself."
Patterson kept his politicking to that. The system, he said, put the Frogs in the Fiesta Bowl and in the Rose Bowl the past two seasons. If TCU is left out of the BCS, sources at TCU say the Frogs will play in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 21 against Louisiana Tech (8-4).
"You have to trust people," said Patterson, wearing his Mountain West championship hat and shirt. "Everything always happens for a reason. If we're deserving to be there, then there's a good chance we'll be there. If we're not, then we won't. Then we need to go win whatever bowl we're supposed to."