The new abnormal: TCU, West Virginia encounter trouble in Big 12

Neither TCU nor West Virginia are used to losing. Both entered the Big 12 coming off conference titles -- the Horned Frogs in the Mountain West and the Mountaineers in the Big East.

But both have come to an unfamiliar intersection on their first drive through the Big 12.

After great starts, they are trying to prevent what has come to be the unthinkable for either program: a three-game losing streak as they prepare for their 2 p.m. game Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va.

TCU (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) has never lost three consecutive games during Gary Patterson's 12-year tenure. The last time TCU lost three straight was in 1998, Patterson's first season as Dennis Franchione's defensive coordinator.

West Virginia (5-2, 2-2) started 5-0 and reached fifth in the nation, quickly becoming a darling for early BCS bowl projections, and quarterback Geno Smith was touted as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. But the Mountaineers have dropped to 21st in the BCS rankings after losing to Texas Tech and Kansas State by a combined 104-28. West Virginia hasn't lost three in a row since its final three games in 2004.

"It's the reality of the situation," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Every game is going to be tough. We have a bunch of older kids that want to finish the year strong, that want to keep winning, that want to show improvement and want to get to a good bowl game and win games."

Suddenly, both coaches have been forced to deal with questions about the state of their programs. Some are more obvious than others. TCU has been forced to play with younger players and reserves because of injuries and other player losses. Patterson said Tuesday during his media luncheon that the quality of the Big 12 is not a surprise. In fact, he was talking about the need for depth to win in the league long before the season started.

"It's not the competition level that is different for us, it's that the margin for error is smaller," Patterson said. "You can't throw two picks and fumble the ball and then expect to beat somebody unless you really have a fantastic game on the other side, one way or the other."

Meanwhile, West Virginia's defense, ranked 114th out of 120 FBS schools, has allowed almost 500 yards a game.

"There's a bunch of good 5-2 teams out there," Holgorsen said. "Just because we dropped the last two doesn't mean we're a bad football team. We've been telling our players to worry about what we say on the inside. And that's not only important when we were 5-0 and ranked in the top five, but it's also important after you lose a couple games. The same people that were saying how good you are are going to say how bad you are. So we don't listen to anything on the outside."

Patterson dismissed the notion that youth and inexperience have led to the Frogs losing three of their last four, even with defensive end Stansly Maponga, receiver Brandon Carter and running back Matthew Tucker missing games in the stretch.

"People say it's because of youth -- well it's not all because of youth," he said. "Older guys have screwed up, too. We all need to do our part."

TCU strong safety Sam Carter isn't buying it, either.

"The next person has to step up," he said. "We wish we had Stansly out there, but [Jon] Koontz is a very great player. You can't make mistakes. That's the key in this conference. One or two mistakes will lose you a ballgame. In the Mountain West, we made mistakes and still were able to win. We're not going to make excuses. Every team loses players. I just feel it's the mistakes that we've made that we're 2-3. If we didn't make mistakes I feel we'd be undefeated. But we made mistakes, and that's why we're in this predicament."

Both coaches can block out panicky fans while still reminding their teams, especially their young players, that their seasons can be salvaged.

"They're giving up more points and yards than they would like," Holgorsen said about TCU's defense. "They're not used to that and everybody is complaining about what's wrong, but they're doing a good job staying true to their schemes. It's the same effort, they're just playing some pretty good people.."

Patterson, meanwhile, knows West Virginia still has the fifth-best passing offense in the country.

"We're both kind of on the same path," Patterson said. "They've lost a couple but they're still a really good football team. We understand what we need to do. One of the things would be just get healthy, but that's not going to happen here in the next couple weeks.

"[TCU] is still a team that's been in every ballgame they've played, in a league that people said, 'Well, they'll learn.' We already knew. Just how do you get your young players to understand? That's the battle right now. It's not a negative, it's just a fact of life. You use what you've got. We have to grow this team up one way or the other. Obviously, it's a little bit frustrating because you would like to have played with a little bit stronger, older team going into a stronger league. I learned that everything happens for a reason."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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