December 20, 2011

TCU hopes Poinsettia Bowl is launch party into Big 12

Gary Patterson has tried to drill home the point to his players that how they play at 7 tonight against Louisiana Tech could determine whether, and how highly, the Frogs will be ranked in the 2012 preseason polls.

SAN DIEGO -- TCU coach Gary Patterson sat patiently, surrounded by a throng of reporters and television cameras, amiably answering questions Tuesday morning at the downtown Omni Hotel.

It was his last pregame news conference before the Poinsettia Bowl. His last news conference as a Mountain West Conference coach. His last as coach of a non-automatic qualifying team.

Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes had departed the joint event 10 minutes earlier. But Patterson remained as reporters peppered him with questions that ran the gamut. From the coaches' poll to TCU moving to the Big 12, Patterson was engaged and talkative.

It's a normal scene before a bowl game, to which Patterson has led the 18th-ranked Horned Frogs seven consecutive seasons and 13 out of the 14 seasons he has been at TCU.

It's also the kind of scene that might become much more common around TCU as the Frogs move to the Big 12. Officially, TCU becomes the ninth member of the conference July 1, 2012. But Patterson moved mentally when the announcement came in early October.

"We have to have the consistency and need the body types to handle the Big 12 schedule every week," Patterson said, referring to how the announcement has already paid recruiting dividends. "I've self-analyzed how I do things. How we call defense, how we call offense, how we recruit -- all those things."

Most important, Patterson has tried to drill home the point to his players that how they play at 7 tonight against Louisiana Tech could likely determine whether, and how highly, TCU will be ranked in the 2012 preseason polls.

The Horned Frogs (10-2) are currently ranked No. 18 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. A win gives them an eight-game winning streak headed into the Big 12.

It would put a final stamp on a remarkable turnaround that saw TCU win its third consecutive Mountain West Conference title after a 3-2 start. The Bulldogs, champion of the Western Athletic Conference, have also won seven in a row.

"I believe there is no such thing as a positive unless you win," Patterson said. "That plaque that will be next to the Rose Bowl plaque, just like all the other plaques, is going to say who won and who lost. So it's just as important."

It's important, Patterson said, to prepare his younger players for the future, and the extra bowl practices are a prime opportunity to get his message across.

"It teaches them lessons about playing at a high level not only in the Poinsettia Bowl, but into the spring, and next year," he said. "The team that wins bowl games is the team that wants it the most. You usually find out the first five minutes of the game how it's all going to go down."

For the team's seniors, tonight is one final chance to add to their school-record 46 career wins. At least one of them, linebacker Tank Carder, never doubted his team despite the slow start.

"I had faith the whole time Coach P was going to get us going," he said. "We had no choice, we couldn't quit. We had our backs up against the wall and we knew we had to step up and show what we could really do. We feel like Boise was our defining moment this year. And winning this bowl game would say a lot going into next year."

The season sort of mirrors Patterson's tenure at TCU, a humble beginning, followed by a few big wins, including a stunning upset at Boise State.

"People don't understand where TCU came from and what we've had to do the last 14 years to get where we are right now," Patterson told the San Diego media. "So hopefully we'll never lose that edge of putting our backs against the wall and being who we're supposed to be. It has been an interesting ride."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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