The final month of TCU’s 2013 season has taken on an unfamiliar vibe.
For the first time in nine years, TCU’s November isn’t filled with showdowns and BCS rankings hanging in the balance.
The Horned Frogs (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) have plenty left to play for as they travel to Ames, Iowa, to take on last-place Iowa State at 11 a.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.
In fact, the tenor of the 2013 season could be changed with a strong finish. The Frogs can earn a bowl berth with three wins to close the season. That, of course, would include an upset over sixth-ranked Baylor in the regular-season finale on Nov. 30 at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
If TCU pulled it off, the view of the 2013 season would be altered. The 2013 narrative would segue from a mistake-filled mess to an inspiring resurgence.
But TCU coach Gary Patterson and his players aren’t looking past the Cyclones (1-7, 0-5), who took advantage of a slew of Frogs turnovers to win 37-23 in Fort Worth a year ago. ISU is out of bowl contention after being blown out by an average of 43 points in its past three games, including a 41-7 loss at Kansas State last week.
“The key to it is, what they remember in November,” Patterson said as he opened his Tuesday media luncheon. “Obviously, we are not in a place we’d like to be this time of year. We have an opportunity to still win three ballgames. This time of year, you get a chance to go play for pride.”
The kind of performance TCU displays Saturday, win or lose, will go a long way in showing if the team hasn’t given up on the season.
“We’ll keep fighting. There’s no quit,” running back Aaron Green said during Patterson’s Thursday night radio show. “It starts with one, this week and Iowa State. I really feel like we can get it done.”
TCU’s success down the stretch could be ignited by senior quarterback Casey Pachall, who makes his second start since returning from a broken arm.
He helped the offense to its best day of the season in Saturday’s overtime loss to West Virginia, totaling 454 yards, including 394 yards passing. If he continues to lead an offensive improvement over these final weeks, the offense could perhaps give Baylor a game.
“I’ve been saying since the beginning that we were young,” Patterson said. “You lose some of the players we lost early … this group could have quit a long time ago, to be honest with you. Sometimes you have guys that screw up on your team. … But for us it’s been guys that we’ve counted on, that we expected that would be guys to lead us and that even throws an ever bigger wrench into the cog of what you’re trying to get done with your engine.”
Junior cornerback Kevin White said spirits are high on the team. The goal remains, he said, to get the team’s seniors to a bowl game.
“There’s still a lot of to play for,” he said. “The seniors don’t want to go out on a losing streak. They want to go to a bowl and, of course, the other players want to go to a bowl. With a big win against Baylor it could get us a shot at another bowl. We definitely feel like we can win these last three games. Guys want to win. It’s not fun losing. We don’t want to send the seniors out like that.”
Of course, White knows that’s easier said than done. Winning at Iowa State, where the Cyclones nearly beat Texas earlier this season and upset top-ranked Oklahoma State two years ago, isn’t going to be easy. But if TCU plays like a bowl berth depends on it, it’s certainly doable.
“I found it interesting just how good a practice we had on Sunday,” Patterson said. “The kids bounced back. I think they wondered how we were going to approach it, and we approached it like we always have. You just keep climbing the mountain. It just goes to show you what kind of people we have. I think kids like playing the game.”
Maintaining an edge and mental focus during practice with championships out of reach is crucial to a program’s future, Patterson said.
“If you’re outside the walls of a football program you don’t really know what makes it tick, you don’t really know what is wrong,” he said. “All you can do is judge it off a Saturday and anything you read in the paper. When you lose how to practice to be a champion, it takes a long time to be able get that back. They’ve actually practiced hard as a general rule; 90 percent of it has been like you wouldn’t know that we weren’t 6-3.”
Patterson said he isn’t sugar-coating the situation with his team. In fact, long odds have been kind to his program over the past 13 seasons.
“This is what I told them: you can’t quit learning how to fight. When you’re about a program it’s not just about these three ball games. It’s about next season, it’s about the season after that,” he said. “They have a lot of pride and there’s a lot of history. I told them the odds are not in your favor to win three more. But that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
TCU at Iowa State
11 a.m. Saturday, Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa
Records: TCU 3-6, 1-5 in the Big 12; ISU 1-7, 0-5
TV: FSN; Radio: WBAP/820 AM; KTCU/88.7 FM, KFLC/1270 (Spanish)
Backfield backups: Running backs Aaron Green and Jordan Moore are likely to take center stage behind Casey Pachall with B.J. Catalon (injury) and Waymon James (suspension) out. Green and Moore have seen little action this season but figure to be auditioning for major roles next season.
First-time defensive: For the first time this season, the TCU defense is being scrutinized. The Frogs have allowed 30 points the past two games, although a good chunk of those points followed turnovers by the TCU offense. The Frogs have allowed, oddly, 415 yards exactly against their last three opponents.
Prime Pachall: TCU’s senior quarterback is coming off one of his most prolific games, a 394 yard effort in a losing cause to West Virginia. If Casey Pachall can minimize the turnovers (he had two interceptions and a fumble last week), and continue to be as productive passing as he was in his first start since breaking his non-throwing left arm, the Frogs could snap their three-game losing streak.
Head to head
|Points per game||23.4||23.1|
|3rd down conv.||30.7%||34.1%|
|Def. 3rd down conv.||36.3||42.9|
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760