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November 10, 2009
TCU is in the midst of one of its greatest seasons, moving to No. 4 in this week's BCS standings.
The Horned Frogs put their 9-0 record and BCS dreams on the line Saturday when they play their biggest game of the year, a home contest against Utah. If TCU beats the 8-1 Utes, it takes a giant step toward nailing down its first BCS bid. But would the Horned Frogs deserve a shot to play in the BCS championship game?
Credit Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson, who has built one of the top programs in the nation. He's in his ninth season in Fort Worth and is 81-27, with eight bowl bids. He has had opportunities to leave over the years, but he has remained and now is poised for the season of a lifetime.
This may be Patterson's best team yet, led by quarterback Andy Dalton and defensive end Jerry Hughes. TCU ranks No. 3 in the nation in total defense (240.6 ypg) and No. 8 in total offense (458.6 ypg).
Rivals.com spoke with Patterson about his team and its magical season.
Q: Does this team have a swagger?
"If you want to win a championship, you're going to have to go on a roll. I don't know if it's a 'swagger,' but you have to get in a groove and start playing well. And hopefully we can continue on with what we've been able to accomplish the last couple weeks because I think we've played pretty well."
How have your players handled the attention and speculation of maybe earning a BCS bowl slot?
"They know I'm not going to talk very much about it. Our kids have been great. ? If they are thinking about it, they haven't said much to me."
How does this team differ from your others?
"It's hard for me to tell that during the season. This isn't an emotionally high or low group. Even the BYU game, which I knew they were fired up about, they were very low key even in pregame compared to some of the other teams that we have had. We've had some of those guys who were emotional, who would tend to lift the team a little bit higher. This team has gotten ready to go in all of the big arenas we have been in, like at Clemson or at BYU, Virginia."
Has the offense changed at all with a new coordinator?
"We changed some things around. We are a lot more mature than we have been in a long time. Where we really have grown up is at wide receiver. And it has really helped to have an older quarterback instead of a freshman or sophomore. [Andy Dalton] is a junior. And to have a running back by committee is nice. We have been banged up at that position in the past, where we always have been down to about one guy. We have been able to run those guys and they have been able to stay healthy."
What do you like about this team?
"Defensively, we really have come a long way. I felt we had a chance to be faster, but I didn't know if we could be as physical. We were better by the end of spring and kept developing. We played with a lot of passion at BYU.
What areas of the team still need improvement?
"We are just young. Every week, we keep getting better. We needed to get some returns going and Jeremy Kerley has ranked high in kickoff and punt returns. The biggest thing is depth. If you lose a Dalton or a Hughes, it's tough. If you lose a couple guys, it's a big deal."
How good is defensive end Jerry Hughes?
"He's pretty good. People talk about him all the time, but our other end, Wayne Daniels is pretty good, too. Is Hughes the best defender I have coached? I don't know. Aaron Schobel [a second-round pick in 2001] was pretty good. We have had some pretty decent ones. But he ranks right up there. I can tell you this: He has been a pleasure to coach. He could have kind of sat on his laurels and been about himself, but he has become a good leader. He has made himself stronger and become a better defensive end. He was a better defensive end last spring than he was last fall. He has had some success."
What has surprised you about Dalton's development?
"He has matured. He probably is the most underrated guy on our team. Everyone else is judged on how many passes they throw, and all he has done is win. Against Clemson, I think he ended up with 80 or 90 yards rushing and about 200 yards passing and 300 yards total offense. It was a quiet 300 yards. He scores the winning touchdown on the final drive. He does those kind of things and he's only a junior."
Is this your best team yet at TCU?
"I don't know. I can answer that question better at the end of the year. This team has really come on the last part of the season. So, we'll see how these guys handle it. We will be judged on can we win a championship. The 2005 team did [Mountain West]. The 2002 team did [Conference USA]. So, we'll see if this one can finish and win a conference championship. If they do, I think they'll rank right up there."
Utah has been to two BCS bowls. Boise State and Hawaii also have gone. Is TCU the best non-Big Six program never to play in a BCS bowl?
"We have been close three or four times. By some stretch, if we can win these next few weeks and can get by Utah, this will be the first time when we finally get that big game at home. In 2003, we are 10-0 and have to go to Southern Miss. It's senior night and they're playing for the championship [a 40-28 loss]. Last year, we have to go play at Utah [a 13-10 loss] on a Thursday night after getting back from UNLV at 5 in the morning. There can't be any excuses now. We're sitting right where we want to be."
Is the Mountain West the best non-Big Six league?
"I try to stay out of that. Those things change according to who has senior teams. I think in the last five years, we would be hard to beat from top to bottom and have really grown. You have Boise in the WAC at the top and, you know ? We have three [at the top] and I think Air Force is vastly improved and some others are coming on."
Should you go to a BCS bowl over Boise State if you both are unbeaten?
"[Boise State coach] Chris Petersen has a good football team. Playing those guys last year [a 17-16 win in Poinsettia Bowl], I was very impressed. I think you have two really good football teams. If we get to December and we both are unbeaten, then I probably would get into that argument."
Do you deserve a shot at the BCS title game?
"I don't know about that. I'd have to see how everyone else is playing. I am a voter [in the coaches' poll] and I pay as close of attention as I can to the other games. I thought Utah was pretty good last year and they really got after Alabama. I think Utah could have played with a lot of teams last year. We'll see how we are at the end of this year."
Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.