PASADENA, Calif. -- TCU doesn't need a national championship shot. Not because it doesn't deserve one. Lord knows that's not the case after the smaller, weaker, lesser Horned Frogs beat Wisconsin and everything it represents.
Money. Power. Arrogance. BCS.
No, this was good enough to prove a point in the hallowed Rose Bowl against the brawny Badgers. It wasn't a game, it was a hostile takeover of the system. When Auburn and Oregon play in nine days it can't be better than this. No way. There are those who doubt Cam Newton should even be on the field. On Saturday, there were those who thought TCU didn't belong on the same field with Wisconsin. Not because of anything it did or didn't do, but because of its pedigree, its schedule. Oh, and those garish purple unis which are sooo non-BCS.
"Today," said the leader of those Frogs, Gary Patterson, "proved we had just as good players as anybody in the country."
And that was enough. It was good and it was noble. There wasn't an NCAA investigator in sight. Instead, there were Frogs on their knees crying after beating Wisconsin 21-19. There was a quarterback about to wet his pants -- literally.
"I can't talk," TCU's Andy Dalton said to a reporter in the giddy locker room, "until I go to the bathroom."
After an at-times slimy 2010, 2011 started off pure and right. At least it had a new storyline. A school, whose previous biggest win (arguably) came over Carnegie Mellon 72 years ago, completed a Black Saturday humiliation of the Big Ten. That game clinched the 1938 national championship for TCU in the Sugar Bowl. This one made it 0-5 for the Big Ten in bowls on Saturday alone.
The day concluded with the league's best, brightest and highest rated in the BCS -- that's why Wisconsin was here -- tanking. Meanwhile, TCU had Tank (Carder). The junior linebacker knocked down Scott Tolzien's two-point conversion pass that would have tied the game with two minutes left in the game. When Dalton and Carder shook hands with Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt and Tolzien in the interview room you had to laugh. There it was, up close. Wisconsin really was bigger, by an average of 42 pounds on the offensive line alone vs. TCU's defensive line. But this was the BCS/non-BCS argument played out for real.
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"We just want to prove we can play with the big boys," TCU running back Ed Wesley said. "Maybe next year, national championship."
Maybe next year. No protests. No whining. On the night of Jan. 10 there will be two undefeated teams left in the country. It will be enough for TCU (13-0) to say it is one of them. It beat a team, a conference and, well, a country that looks down its nose at the Frogs. How could a national championship shot be any better?
"I don't think it [could be] less," Patterson said.
When Carder knocked down Tolzien's pass, there was more than celebration on the TCU sideline. There was relief. Wisconsin held the ball for 36½ minutes and pounded the Frogs for 226 rushing yards. That's 11 more total yards than the nation's No. 1 defense had been giving up during an average game. But Patterson had called a blitz, as he had frequently Saturday trying to neutralize the size difference. A TCU safety had gone to the wrong place leaving a Wisconsin receiver open in the end zone. But there was Carder, not exactly undersized at 6-feet-3, 237 pounds, but athletic enough to get to the ball.
"There are times you definitely feel like tapping out and getting some fresh legs," Carder, Rose Bowl Defensive MVP, said. "That's all we've been hearing about is how big they are, how much more weight they have on their line. I knew we were going to come in here with speed. Speed beats power any day."
So does common sense. No one could believe that Wisconsin didn't run some kind of power running play, or at least a run-pass option, on the game's deciding play. Instead, Tolzien took a short drop, essentially giving the gassed Frogs a break.
"This is Frank from Kenosha," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said parodying your average Badger call-in show next week. "What the hell are you throwing the ball for?"
As far as non-automatic qualifier shockers, this was better than Boise's upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl four years ago. That wasn't a vintage OU team and, well, we now know Boise's worth. It will have a more lasting effect than Utah's two-touchdown smackdown of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl two years ago. Why? This was the best Wisconsin team in at least a decade. And the Frogs not only beat the Badgers, they also shoved it in the face of that pencil-necked Ohio State president Gordon Gee who called the likes of TCU Little Sisters of the Poor.
"I don't have any messages for him," Patterson said. "I make mistakes every day."
TCU hasn't made many since being left out of the Big 12 15 years ago. It has willed itself to this point. It took conference hopping to the point that when the school joins the Big East in 2012, it will be in its fifth conference since 1995. Each time it has been upwardly mobile.
It took Dennis Franchione. Remember him? Coach Fran put the Horned Frogs back on the map from 1998-2000 becoming the first TCU coach with a winning record at the school since Abe Martin in 1966. Franchione cashed in that success at Texas A&M and Alabama but left in disgrace at both schools. He left behind his defensive coordinator, Patterson, who took the modest private school to a landmark win on Saturday.
It took Dalton, the winningest active quarterback in I-A. It took a village, the one in Fort Worth that didn't lay down when TCU languished below the BCS level. Construction has begun on more than $100 million in facilities upgrades that will push TCU further into the big time. It took a willingness to change positions. Patterson has developed his monster defenses converting quarterbacks into safeties and fullbacks into linemen. Defensive end Wayne Daniels, who faced All-American Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi, played some receiver in high school.
It took Patterson, that 50-year-old from southwestern Kansas in his 11th year at TCU. He could have left many times, for more money at a BCS school with better athletes. But would it have felt as good, as satisfying as Saturday night?
"Sometimes," Patterson said, "there are things that are just meant to be."