When TCU failed by a whisker to make the College Football Playoff a year ago, coach Gary Patterson thought about Oregon, which had made the field.
TCU, he figured, needed to get where Oregon is — “new royalty” in college football, thought of the same way as the game’s traditional powers, able to get the benefit of the doubt when it came to top bowls and playoff bids.
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He remembered that Oregon wasn’t always Oregon. TCU, he said, hasn’t always been TCU.
But he believed the Horned Frogs, still growing in Power 5 status as new members of the Big 12, were just entering that phase.
Now he and the players get to test that hypothesis first-hand — on the field Saturday in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve dreamed about playing Oregon, no. ... For a defensive guy, that would not be on the top of my Christmas list.
TCU coach Gary Patterson
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve dreamed about playing Oregon, no,” Patterson said with a smile Friday during the head coaches’ joint press conference. “I mean, they score a lot of points. For a defensive guy, that would not be on the top of my Christmas list.”
In Oregon, the Horned Frogs will run up against a program they can claim a sort of kinship with, having also left behind a mostly unremarkable past and embraced the future of college football with uniform design and a spread offense.
I’ve been watching Oregon play since I was younger. Getting to play them in the last game is very cool for me.
TCU safety Derrick Kindred
“I’ve been wanting to play Oregon,” said safety Derrick Kindred. “I’ve been watching Oregon play since I was younger. Getting to play them in the last game is very cool for me.”
Oregon has been a TV favorite long enough for today’s players to remember they were one of the first teams they liked watching.
“I liked their uniforms,” running back Kyle Hicks said. “That’s one thing I really liked about watching them when I watched them in high school.”
Their style of play also caught the eye.
“Their offense, when I was watching them in junior high and high school, electrifying,” safety Denzel Johnson said. “They have a lot of speed on the field. They had notable NFL guys that I watched when I was in junior high and high school. They were a team that I watched on TV.”
The sheen is off this year’s game between the 11th-ranked Horned Frogs and 15th-ranked Ducks because of the suspension of TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, arrested in San Antonio after a bar altercation Thursday morning, and the wrist injury that ended Josh Doctson’s season in November.
It’s a ballgame that’s very similar with two teams that have a lot of speed, two teams that try to be innovative as far as how they coach.
But it is still TCU vs. Oregon, and both teams have much the same stakes to gain from a win — a potential top-10 finish and a potential top-10 start in the polls next season.
“It’s a ballgame that’s very similar with two teams that have a lot of speed, two teams that try to be innovative as far as how they coach, to try not just to beat you with athletes, but schematically get you outnumbered,” Patterson said. “You have to make sure you do a good job of staying on your toes, because they are. Both teams will use trick plays and gadgets to put you in a situation, if you’re not disciplined, to score easily.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson is 4-0 against Pac-12 opponents with the Horned Frogs. The most recent victory was in 2010 against Oregon State.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said it’s not easy to find teams like TCU.
“Offensively, they have — for us — not a great combination of kind of the Washington State Air Raid Mike Leach angle, combined with several teams’ — whether it’s Utah or us or Arizona State — run game,” he said. “They do a great job of combining those two things. Defensively, there’s not really anybody like them in our conference. Obviously, when you invent a defense, there’s going to be a lot of people that try to copy it. The Pac-12 is a lot more 3-4 than 4-3.”
Even without his top two offensive players — and his center, guard and six other starters for that matter — Patterson is eager to measure up. Oregon will tell him something about his team, he said.
“One of the things you need to do to find out where you’re at, what you’re doing, you have to play – somebody outside your conference to find out your level, show your kids where you need to get to if you want to be one of those four playoff teams, if you want to be a top-10 football team in the country,” he said.
“Playing Oregon is that.”