Gil LeBreton

Burden of Big 12 falls on TCU in Peach Bowl

Surrounded by thousands of cheering Horned Frog fans, TCU head coach Gary Patterson leads his team through the Fan Fest before today’s Peach Bowl in Atlanta. (Star-Telegram/Paul Moseley)
Surrounded by thousands of cheering Horned Frog fans, TCU head coach Gary Patterson leads his team through the Fan Fest before today’s Peach Bowl in Atlanta. (Star-Telegram/Paul Moseley) Star-Telegram

The first bowl game, the 1902 Rose Bowl, was conceived as a match of teams representing the East and West.

Michigan, representing the East, ran roughshod over Stanford 49-0, and the debate was on.

Who played the best football? Which conference? Whose single-wing attack? Whose coach?

Gary Patterson can deny it, therefore, and profess, as the TCU coach did again Tuesday, that his Horned Frogs parade behind only their own flag. He has been saying that since the days when the Frogs were trying to break down doors while members of the Mountain West.

But deep inside, he has to know. He lives in the Big 12 Conference’s ZIP code now.

People are going to compare. People are going to generalize. People — especially people in this part of the country — are going to chant.

S-E-C! S-E-C!

Thus, the load on the Frogs’ shoulders became a bit weightier Monday night. Three Big 12 teams lost bowl games, with the league’s two mightiest brands, Texas and Oklahoma, capitulating in embarrassing fashion.

On the eve of Wednesday’s Peach Bowl, Patterson and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze were asked about the issue of Southeastern Conference “patriotism.”

“Ole Miss is a good football team, no matter what conference they played in,” Patterson answered. “For me, this is about playing Ole Miss. It’s not about playing the SEC.”

Most Big 12 coaches, one suspects, would answer in the same way. But that’s the way the Bitter Big 12 rolls. Too many suspicious neighbors traipsing in each other’s back yards.

The Texas Longhorns are the prime culprits for that. No conference member ever built a higher fence than one that started its own TV network.

But the Rebels’ Freeze had a different response Tuesday to the conference pride question.

“I saw a few tweets yesterday from some of our players pulling for some of the other schools in the conference, and I’m fine with that,” he said. “We take great pride in being in the Southeastern Conference.”

Freeze, smiling, said he expects SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to remind him of that via a text message Wednesday morning.

“Our kids,” Freeze said, “I don’t know why it is. Maybe it’s bred into our conference. But they know we get a chance to represent the Southeastern Conference tomorrow, and that is something that matters to our kids, our program and to our conference.”

Because intersectional games so infrequently appear on football schedules these days — and rarely in late season — fans tend to bring only their own biases into the argument of which league is better.

Michigan State intrepidly scheduled an early September road trip to Oregon, lost to the No. 3-ranked Ducks 46-27, and saw the entire Big Ten Conference besmirched by the result for nearly the rest of the regular season.

After the UT and OU debacles, therefore, it’s up to the Frogs and the Baylor Bears to validate the true worth of their Big 12 co-championship. Lay an egg in the Peach and/or Cotton bowls, respectively, and all the league contenders could pay the price in next season’s rankings.

Patterson may not publicly say that. His stance has always been that excellent teams can be found in any neighborhood. He also knows he’s not likely to be getting any good luck texts Wednesday from Baylor’s Art Briles.

That’s just the way the Big 12 rolls. One for one, none for all.

People will be watching the Peach Bowl, though. And comparing.

The chanting part — that’s up to the Horned Frogs.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram