One of Gary Patterson's greatest tools as TCU's coach has been his ability to wrap his team with the underdog flag.
The Horned Frogs have carried a chip on their shoulders over a sometimes real and sometimes perceived lack of respect from some corners, and Patterson's embrace of the "all for one, and one for all" mentality has been a hallmark of the program's rise to the college football elite.
But in 2012, with TCU's move into the Big 12, and the seemingly endless list of players lost for a myriad of reasons, there is no longer anything contrived about the notion.
The 15th-ranked Horned Frogs (4-0, 1-0 in the Big 12) need that chip to be bigger than ever to keep their season from unraveling as they begin a stretch of conference games against Iowa State (3-1, 0-1) at 2:30 p.m. today at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
"In these kinds of situations, usually your team sometimes rallies and plays better, a lot more focused, everybody knows they've got to do a little bit more to get done what they need to get done," Patterson said Thursday on a SiriusXM radio show after he suspended starting quarterback Casey Pachall, who was arrested that morning on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. "As a head coach you can't dwell on it. You do that, your team does."
That's been another one of Patterson's best attributes in his 12 years as head coach: grace under pressure. Patterson has often done his best coaching in the middle of a crisis. In his first season as head coach, Patterson was 4-5 and needed wins in his final two games to earn a bowl berth. The Frogs beat No. 17 Louisville and won at Southern Miss.
After a dismal 2004 season in which TCU went 5-6, Patterson spurred a rebound with an 11-1 season in 2005, including a season-opening upset at No. 5 Oklahoma.
In 2007, preseason All-America defensive lineman Tommy Blake's personal issues became a distraction before the Frogs rallied to win their final three games, including a Texas Bowl win over Houston.
"With everything that has happened since signing day, and you're still off to a 4-0 start?" former TCU player and longtime radio analyst John Denton said. "He just seems, when the chips are down, to find a positive energy and drive his focus to make his team better."
Since that win to close out the 2007 season, TCU is 51-5, has earned two trips to BCS bowls (including a Rose Bowl win), and trails only Alabama and Oregon for average final ranking in The Associated Press poll. The only drama in the previous three seasons was from dramatic victories. So far this season, Patterson has been able to keep the W's coming despite the personnel losses.
The loss of Pachall to a suspension, however, is the team's biggest setback in what has become a nightmare scenario for the program. Pachall is the 20th player TCU has lost, and its 10th starter, since January.
Patterson, though, barely had time to digest the Pachall situation before touting redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin's skill. In fact, Pachall was still waiting to be released from the Mansfield Jail when Patterson told a national radio show audience how much better the offense could be with Boykin's dual-threat talents.
Patterson said later after Thursday's practice that he'll get into Pachall's future with the team after today's game.
"We're playing the next guy," he said. "That's what teams do. We've lost Tanner Brock, we've lost Waymon James, we've lost Ed Wesley. If you want to go win, the next guy steps up."
"It's not like this is before the season and you've got time to think about it," Patterson said on SiriusXM. "You get four practices and you play the next game. So for us right now, we have only one practice before we play the next game. So we'll go on about our business. I think you'll find our team will do just fine."