If TCU coach Gary Patterson should be known for anything besides tremendous defense, it would be his knack for treating every opponent on the schedule like the 1978 Steelers. He doesn't allow his Horned Frogs to take any team for granted, no matter if it's Portland State in Week 4 or hapless New Mexico on Oct. 22.
Over the last three seasons he has shown a remarkable ability to tune into his team's frequency each week and dial it up or down, whatever the opponent calls for. TCU has only lost once in the last two years and has won 13 consecutive games, thanks to a 13-0 season in 2010. The Frogs are second only to Auburn (15 straight) for the nation's longest current winning streak.
"The first two games are going to be big character checks," Patterson said of opening at Baylor and Air Force. "You have to go on the road against two football teams that have a lot of returning starters and you've got to beat them in their house."
So how long can the Frogs keep it going? What are the potential pitfalls that stand between another unblemished record in the season ahead? There are several big obstacles in their way, beginning with the season opener at Baylor on Friday and ending with a showdown at Boise State Nov. 12. Between now and then there are other potential roadblocks on TCU's path to perfection. Here's a rundown:
7 p.m. Friday, ESPN
Potential roadblock: QB Robert Griffin poses a unique challenge to the TCU defense. Not only can he connect downfield for secondary-stretching long passes, but he can eat up yardage on the ground, keeping Frogs linebackers occupied in the box.
@ San Diego State
9:30 p.m. Oct. 8, CBS SN
Potential roadblock: QB Ryan Lindley has an NFL-caliber arm and could raise his stock with a strong showing against the always respected TCU defense. The Aztecs' leading rusher, Ronnie Hillman, also returns for his sophomore season after 1,532 yards and 17 touchdowns.
@ Boise State
2:30 p.m. Nov. 12, Versus
Potential roadblock: QB Kellen Moore leads the nation with 38 wins and has only lost twice in his three seasons, including a 17-16 loss to TCU in the '08 Poinsettia Bowl. His Heisman Trophy bona fides will be on the line against the Frogs defense in one of the biggest games of the year.
TCU will face a collection of proven quarterbacks throughout the 2011 season, beginning with Baylor's Robert Griffin. How will the defense perform, especially the inexperienced secondary against the likes of Griffin, San Diego State's Ryan Lindley and Boise State's Kellen Moore?
Sure, the Frogs handled the Bears last year 45-10 at Amon G. Carter Stadium, holding Griffin to 16 of 28 passing for 164 yards. But Griffin responded over the next several weeks by throwing for more than 380 yards three times, with 15 touchdown passes and two interceptions. The junior is older, more confident and playing at home. Containing him will be a chore, especially with possible Week 1 nerves on the road in front of a national television audience.
The quarterback onslaught continues at San Diego State, where Ryan Lindley will try to keep his NFL draft stock high with a big-time performance against the Frogs on Oct. 8. Last year the Aztecs were the only team to really give TCU a scare during the regular season, when Lindley connected on two long touchdown passes late in the game.
Then there's Moore, the Heisman Trophy finalist in his fourth and final season running the Boise State offense. TCU will have to stop Moore on the blue turf in Boise, where he's never lost a game. He was named the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year the last two seasons, and despite losing two trusted receivers, he should be as potent as ever.
TCU must continue its trend of taking care of business on the road. Over the last two years the Frogs have gone into hostile territory at Virginia, Clemson, BYU and Utah and prevailed, most times with shocking ease.
Patterson has cultivated a bedrock principle on his team that energy and excitement must come from within each player when away from Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Except for a few brief lapses, including the first half at Colorado State last season, the Frogs have lived up to the challenge.
In 2011, every huge game comes away from home, including an Oct. 28 meeting with BYU at Cowboys Stadium.
TCU opens up at Baylor, then goes to Air Force, which is a team many expect to contend for the Mountain West Conference title. Falcons quarterback Tim Jefferson and tailback Asher Clark were only sophomores when the Frogs escaped with a 20-17 win at Air Force in 2009.
The season may come down to the Frogs' Nov. 12 game at Boise State, where visiting teams have won only five times since 1998.
Not only does TCU have to play well to finish undefeated, the breaks must go the Frogs' way, too. Leaders must step up and guide their teammates through a minefield of egos, injuries and impossible odds.
They must defeat a Broncos team that has won 32 consecutive home games since December 2005. The Frogs must travel to Wyoming in November when snow and ice could be a factor.
They'll face an SMU team that led the Frogs early in the second half a year ago, and has built up resentment after four losses in a row. The Pony hate for TCU is only topped by the utter disdain from Waco.
Patterson is aware of all of this. He constantly reminds his team to take care of the details, to "practice like you want to play," and similar coaching refrains. One of his favorites may mean more this year than ever before:
"You have to go take ballgames on the road."
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760