July 23, 2012

TCU in familiar role as underdog in Big 12

Having to prove themselves is nothing new for the Horned Frogs.

DALLAS -- TCU coach Gary Patterson touched on some familiar themes as he met the throng of Big 12 media at the Westin Galleria on Monday.

Patterson rightfully has rallied his players for the last 11 seasons as a disrespected underdog with a chip on their shoulders even as the Horned Frogs rose to become one of the nation's top-tier football programs.

Now the four-time Mountain West Conference champions -- 36-3 the last three seasons -- are more of an underdog than ever. The league media picked the Frogs to finish fifth and placed just one player -- defensive end Stansly Maponga -- on the preseason all-Big 12 team.

Yes, the chip remains on the shoulder for TCU.

"This is not going to be our first rodeo," Patterson said. "It's not like we haven't played in big ballgames before."

But Patterson is quick to tamp down expectations, too. He has seen and heard the giddy expectations of Frogs fans who expect the winning seasons to continue in the new league.

"I try to stay away from the buzz," Patterson said. "I've told [fans] that everyone needs to calm down. One thing our group has to understand is you have not arrived just because we got to the Big 12. You have to win in the Big 12. Just because you're in a conference doesn't make you a good football team. You make yourself a good football team.

"Our goal has to be to win, whether it's this year or whenever it is. Our fans need to understand being in the Big 12 doesn't make you special. Winning makes you special. Winning has made us get back to this point."

But Patterson also isn't buying the "welcome to the big boys" view he's heard and read in the media.

"We've been playing with the big boys for a long time," said Patterson, who touted teams such as Utah, BYU and Boise State that fought the Frogs for MWC supremacy over the years. "Oregon couldn't go to Boise and win and they went to a Rose Bowl. This team went to Boise and won a ballgame. This program has been there before. There's nothing about TCU that says we're trying to be average."

At the same time, Patterson will remind his players of their underdog status and keep building that chip into a boulder.

"Yeah, absolutely, all the time," quarterback Casey Pachall said. "Especially last season because everybody underestimated me and underestimated our whole team and thought we weren't going to be any good and be a waste of time, but we knew otherwise. That gave us some motivation and put a chip on our shoulder and that's going to be the same coming into [the Big 12].

"Everybody is not going to give us any chance. They're just going to think that we're going to come in and get blown out by several of these teams and not do very good, but we know otherwise."

In one specific way, the move to the Big 12 might make Patterson's job a little easier, he said. In the MWC, Patterson often had to fire up his team headed into uninspiring half-full stadiums on the road against opponents that had little connection for his players.

"The emotional part of the game has been taken out of it," Patterson said. "I'm not going into a stadium with 17,000; I'm going into a stadium with 80,000."

And against teams stocked with players his players know from high school, Patterson said.

"Before we play one game, TCU and Fort Worth win compared with what we've gone through the last 15 years," he said. "Now the football program, we have to go prove ourselves all over again. When it came to the state of Texas, we've always had a chip on our shoulder. We're a private school that has 8,000 [students] playing schools that have 60,000 and have traditions of doing it."

Patterson repeatedly was asked how the move to Big 12 affects TCU recruiting. He patiently repeated that he has always recruited the best athletes in the state, but the move and the Frogs' new facilities, including the $164 million renovations to Amon G. Carter Stadium, have helped him attract "99 percent" of the state's top prospects to at least visit the campus. But he added, "You're still fighting history.

"This won't be a short race," he said. "This will be a 3-to-5 year plan. Once we get out of the season and evaluate and start recruiting and building our depth... obviously, we want to win this year, but you've got to be patient about how you do things."

He joked that rabid Frogs fans haven't listened to him in 12 years, but he knows they do. That's why he tried to put this inaugural season in the Big 12 "in perspective for them. I don't think you need to fuel the fire.

"As far as perception-wise, Texas graduates 15,000 alumni a year, we graduate 1,500," Patterson said. "We will lose the arms race our whole life. I've got to play in a game that plays 11 on 11, that's the only place I have equal ground. That's where I'm at right now; that's where I've always been."

"This has been a 15-year journey," he continued. "It's like a chess board. You just can't move your pawns out. If you don't back them up, they're going to be jumped. So hopefully we've built a foundation at TCU that's going to last. We weren't ready to come 10 years ago. I think we're closer. How close? We're going to know in about four months."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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