Eric Hyman won't toot his school's horn. This week is his chance to yell at the top of his lungs, use the bully pulpit, cajole, buttonhole.
But Hyman, Texas Christian's athletic director, won't go there. During this week, with the convergence of BCS rhetoric, poll positioning and the biggest game his school has played in years, he is like a shy eighth-grader at his first school dance.
|1. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh|
|2. Eli Manning, QB, Mississippi|
|3. Jason White, QB, Oklahoma|
"Publicly, you've got to be careful about what you say," Hyman said. "We've got four games to go. You don't want to be a locker-room lawyer. It's a huge game."
Sift through the millions of words written and spoken over the weekend about Showdown Saturday and the mega-forces in college football, you find TCU is one of two undefeated I-A programs left in the country. No. 1 Oklahoma is the other. Hyman's huge game is Wednesday night when his No. 13 Horned Frogs (8-0) play host to No. 25 (in the coaches poll) Louisville.
The BCS debate will be opened wide in a stand-alone game on national television. The conference title at stake. It's the first time two ranked Conference USA teams have faced each other. Only Oklahoma (11) has a longer winning streak than TCU (10).
The Frogs are No. 9 this week in the BCS, jumping up from No. 12 last week. The situation is not unlike 2000, when TCU, under Dennis Franchione, started 7-0 and was getting BCS buzz before finishing 10-2.
"In my mind," said coach Gary Patterson, who has a vote in the coaches poll, "we're No. 1."
But in the cold, raw BCS numbers, the Frogs are out of the loop. Franchione's current team, Texas A&M (4-5) has a better shot at getting in a BCS bowl mostly because it plays in a signatory BCS conference. In essence, TCU might be darn good, but it doesn't matter to the right people.
"If they can run the table, there will be two undefeated teams, and I think they should get one (a BCS berth)," said Franchione, three years and two schools removed from TCU. "Maybe now that there only two undefeated teams they may acknowledge that fact just a little bit more. They've got a couple of tough games ahead of them that will validate them even more."
|Cory Rodgers (17) and the Horned Frogs have had much to celebrate.(AP)|
Tulane in 1998 and Marshall in 1999 went undefeated and finished 10th and 12th. Out of the running, just as TCU figures to be after the season finale Nov. 29 at SMU.
TCU is good now, but will it matter in 2006, the year access to the BCS is likely to be loosened? In the current system, if Notre Dame doesn't qualify, there are two at-large BCS berths among the eight each year. A non-BCS school like TCU must finish in the top six of the final BCS rankings to be assured a berth.
In the five years of the BCS, that has never happened.
Even with a wave of momentum rolling in TCU's favor, things look bleak. The bombastic words emanating from last week's Senate Judiciary hearing looking into the BCS are still ringing in ears. Sen. Joe Biden called the BCS "unfair" and "un-American." There is the more-than-veiled threat of legal action against the BCS.
The Fiesta Bowl will have at least one representative at Wednesday's game, as it did at the end of 2000.
"They were very serious then," Hyman said. "Notre Dame played Oregon State that year. If we would have been undefeated, we would have been in."
That's easy to say now. There are things like hotel rooms, tickets and networks be considered when arranged a bowl matchup.
In 1998, Hyman and a bunch of school and city officials basically bum rushed the Sun Bowl trying to get in. The Frogs got invited and beat Southern California, but that doesn't mean the same rules apply this time.
In fact, none of the rules apply when computers, polls and strength of schedule are involved.
"It's not an indication we would take them and not an indication we wouldn't take them," Fiesta Bowl president John Junker said of his bowl's presence in Fort Worth this week. "I think it's appropriate that we should have a look at them, who knows? All those one-loss teams might have two before the season is over."
That is really TCU's only hope. There are six one-loss teams (and one two-loss team, Michigan) ahead of it in the BCS. Even if all those teams lost another game, it's doubtful the human pollsters would vote the Horned Frogs high enough to get in a BCS bowl.
For now, Patterson is using his current success as motivation. What the players don't know can't hurt them.
"Where we were six years ago as a program and where we were now, that we're even in the same breath as Oklahoma says a lot," said Patterson, who came to TCU in 1998 as Franchione's defensive coordinator. "We kind of play with a silent confidence."
Nothing has changed since TCU started the season as one of the best football programs not in the BCS. It has facilities, support, coaches and good recruiting. Patterson is keeping alive the excellence started under Franchione. If the Frogs win 10 this year, it will be the third time in four years.
This year under Patterson, the Frogs are one of the best defensive teams in the country. Offense is another thing. They have squeaked out five of their victories by a touchdown or less. But if offensive glitz and glamour is a requirement, then take that national championship away from Ohio State.
The good news for TCU is that the system will get changed. The bad news, not in time to help this year. There will be more access for teams like TCU, Tulane and Marshall. That was all but assured as early as April, when SportsLine.com reported BCS commissioners had spoken in general terms about opening up the system that has been impossible so far for non-BCS schools to crack.
The next significant meeting is Nov. 16 in New Orleans between BCS and non-BCS presidents. There is talk of changing the automatic access of non-BCS teams from top six to top 20. A fifth BCS bowl might be established, taking in some of those currently disenfranchised non-BCS powers.
Still, it is more than ironic 24 hours before Wednesday's game, the Big East will announce Louisville is joining its league. TCU will still be looking for a BCS berth. Louisville might be inheriting access if the Big East retains its bid in 2006.
That's why Hyman must use coach-speak. The computers and pollsters already are against his program. No sense in riling Louisville.
"I don't publicly want to make a comment," Hyman said.
Patterson will. He's a fast tracker, a coach -- like Franchione -- headed for a better job sooner rather than later. He was reminded that if both teams are still undefeated, there's an opening on Jan. 5. That's the day after the Sugar Bowl, for Oklahoma and TCU settle things on a sandlot somewhere.
Patterson chuckled, asking if coaches could play, then turned serious.
"We play them 2005, so we'll get a chance," he said. "We'll find out then."