TCU leaves Mountain West as an elite team

Even at the moment, the play seemed to have consequences far beyond the field, that Texas Christian was doing more than recording just another victory to represent those outside the Bowl Championship Series structure.

Linebacker Tank Carder’s bat of a late 2-point conversion attempt that would have pulled Wisconsin into a tie in last season’s Rose Bowl helped place the Horned Frogs on a level beyond previous BCS busters Utah and Boise State.

The Frogs had been building for that moment, and probably because it was the Rose Bowl, a game with considerable tradition and, for many, reverence, the victory established them as truly among the nation’s elite programs more than any other win could.

They are benefiting from it today.

Winning the Rose Bowl probably didn’t hurt TCU’s chances of getting into the Big 12 Conference, which it joins next year after reneging on a prior agreement to the enter the Big East.

"I think that helped us," coach Gary Patterson said. "I think it’s been a perfect storm. We wouldn’t be finishing up on a new stadium, a new locker room, a new weight room. We’ve had to improve in all areas as a program, as a university, for us to have had the opportunity to even be asked."

UNLV (2-9, 1-5 Mountain West Conference) will see the results of that long process for itself when it plays 18th-ranked TCU at 11:30 a.m. PST Saturday, and not just in the form of the opponent on the field.

Amon Carter Stadium is undergoing a $164 million renovation that will be completed next year. The project, fully supported through donations, will increase the seating capacity from the current 32,000 to 50,000.

Filling the stadium, particularly now that schools such as Texas and Oklahoma will make frequent appearances, shouldn’t be a problem. TCU’s enrollment is just 9,518, but it has sold out its stadium seven games in a row and this year sold more than 22,000 season tickets, a school record.

Getting tickets to TCU games hasn’t always been so difficult.

Previous coach Dennis Franchione posted three straight winning records before Patterson took over after the 2000 season, but Frogs football history was littered with losses. TCU finished with losing seasons in 27 of the 32 years before "Coach Fran" arrived in 1998.

After Franchione left for Alabama, Patterson was promoted from defensive coordinator and went 6-6 in his first season, followed by a 10-2 record in 2002 and co-Conference USA championship.

Now, Patterson is putting the finishing touches on his seventh conference title, this one in the Mountain West, and the Frogs (9-2, 6-0) will win it outright if the 38½-point favorites handle their business against the Rebels.

The only item missing from Patterson’s resume — he was named the nation’s top coach this year by Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine — is a national title. TCU came close last season, finishing second, but failing to color in the top part of his now-famous pyramid that lists each season’s goals.

Maybe joining the Big 12 will help provide TCU the path to that elusive championship.

But the Frogs probably had their chance this season. Had it not been for a two-point loss at Baylor and an overtime defeat to rival Southern Methodist, TCU might be in line to meet Louisiana State for the BCS title.

Winning last season’s Rose Bowl gave TCU a level of respect that would have made it easier for the Frogs to become the first non-BCS team to play for the national championship if they hadn’t suffered those two close losses.

The Frogs won the Rose Bowl by holding off a Wisconsin comeback. Running back Montee Ball scored with two minutes left to bring the Badgers within 21-19.

Carder, last season’s Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, tried to blitz on the ensuing 2-point play, but was blocked. Seeing the pass to an open receiver that probably would have sent the game into overtime, Carder reached up and swatted the ball.

"I know everybody in the stadium saw that dude open," wide receiver Josh Boyce said. "I’m glad Tank knocked it down."

Carder said he often was asked by fans about his play up until summer. "I had to explain how I swatted the ball down," he said.

Frequently reliving the moment is a good problem to have, and Patterson sees another good problem when TCU officially enters the Big 12.

"I think the thing that will happen is TCU is going to win, Fort Worth is going to win and Gary Patterson’s job got tougher," Patterson said. "If it was easy, anybody could do it. We’re excited about the opportunity and the challenge."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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