TCU gains respect as favorite
Fowler wasn’t laughing during a Monday conference call because he questions the third-ranked Horned Frogs’ chances against No. 4 Wisconsin, the top-ranked team from the automatic-qualifying Big Ten Conference. Rather, Fowler was thinking of his ESPN colleagues, who quickly anointed the Badgers (11-1) the favorite over the Frogs (12-0) during ESPN’s BCS bowl announcement show on Sunday.
“I think there will be a lot of people, (including) my colleagues who will go the other way on that one and like the underdog,” Fowler said with a laugh before turning serious. “It shows (TCU) has respect.”
For TCU coach Gary Patterson, who took part in a separate teleconference with the media, the Badgers represent the formidable prestige of the Big Ten while his Frogs carry the banner of the non-automatic qualifying schools trying to earn a share of the BCS pie.
Patterson doesn’t think losing Jan. 1 ruins the strides that TCU and other non-AQ teams (Boise State and Utah) have made in the last five years, but a win would go a long way in proving the six automatic qualifying conferences don’t have a monopoly on the best teams in the nation.
“I think for us to keep climbing the mountain, we need to (win),”
Patterson said. “We’re not going there just to play well. I do believe it says a lot for us to be in this ballgame after what we’ve been able to do over the last six years and where we’ve come from.”
Fowler and fellow ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit don’t necessarily agree on what a TCU win means to the national landscape. Fowler, who is host of the network’s Saturday morning “College GameDay,” is disappointed that the 2010 Frogs will never get a chance to prove itself in a national championship game, a sentiment echoed by some Frogs fans.
“I think those guys are viewing the Rose Bowl as a really nice consolation prize,” Fowler said. “I guess the thing that bothers me is that you’ll never know. There have been a lot of teams over the years that just never know how they might have played and matched up in a championship format that would allow them.
“It’s a great reward and it’s a great game, but it’s not leading to anything else. If you talk to a lot of people, and (former Notre Dame coach and current ESPN analyst) Lou Holtz is a strong believer in this, it doesn’t prove anything whether they win or lose in Pasadena. You’ll still never know what would have happened.”
Herbstreit, on the other hand, thinks a TCU win would be a huge stepping stone in the future for non-AQs everywhere. No one has forgotten Boise State’s win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, or Utah’s win over Alabama in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, Herbstreit reminded.
“I disagree with Chris on what TCU has at stake,” said Herbstreit, a former quarterback at Ohio State. “I know there’s not a national championship on the line, but that bowl game and the exposure (means a lot), because it’s the Rose Bowl, and because it’s Wisconsin, who a lot of people would say right now is maybe playing as well as anybody in the country. If TCU has a breakthrough and they knock off Wisconsin in that game, I think we’ll be talking about that, and it justifies this entire year and lends credibility to, not only TCU, but others down the road at getting more of an opportunity.”
Patterson laid out his respect for Wisconsin and its offensive line, whose average size is about 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds. “They don’t make many mistakes,” Patterson said. “They’re a very well-coached football team.”
Patterson said the Frogs, especially the seniors, are already treating this trip to a BCS bowl differently than last season’s trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where TCU lost to Boise State.
“You only get one chance,” he said. “You’re on uncharted grounds to get to play in such a ballgame and represent and lay it all on the line.
They came to TCU to play against these kinds of teams. I don’t know if we’re going to win it, but as far as the team’s mind-set it’s definitely in the right place.”