This is about the other new kids on the block in the Big 12 — TCU.
They, like West Virginia, enter a new conference and do so with a lot to prove and a strong hankering to prove it.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Horned Frogs quarterback Casey Pachall said Monday morning in Dallas at the Big 12 Media Day. “We keep hearing all this stuff about ‘What do you think will happen?’ or ‘What do you think might go on?’ We’re ready to show people we can make it happen.”
A long time is understating it. Once upon a time TCU was a proud member of the Southwestern Conference, a small, private school with a long and strong football tradition. They competed with Texas and Texas A&M and Baylor and the schools of the SWC for 73 years, but when the league folded in 1996 they were left out in the vast collegiate wasteland, nomads wandering from conference to conference.
They slipped to mid-major status and did all they could to climb back among the majors. In November 2010 they announced they were joining the Big East, but at that time the world of college football came undone, the Big East crumbling and the Big 12 losing Missouri and Texas A&M.
TCU backed out of the Big East and joined West Virginia to make the Big 12 a 10-team major conference, one with stability and status, all the things TCU was looking to attain.
“Obviously it’s been a long journey for us. We’ve been through a lot of different conferences along our way,” Coach Gary Patterson admitted.
He has been the architect, the man who patiently waited for a break, doing what was necessary to build TCU into a Southwestern power, a team that has won 36 of its last 39 games entering the Big 12 as one of three — yes, three — conference champions now in the conference.
They won the Mountain West, WVU won the Big East and Oklahoma State, of course, is the returning Big 12 champion.
“The way we approach things, we’ve always approached things, whether as a university or as a football program, it’s been about one day at a time and making sure we build a foundation that would last,” Patterson said
“Our goal has always been to win a conference championship no matter what. If you look in our pyramid, no matter what our league is, that’s the way it’s been and it’s going to continue to be now.”
Even as they won, they never really earned a lot of respect for it, and there were some big wins, including one over Oklahoma, which might sound a lot like West Virginia’s situation coming into the league.
“Being in the Mountain West we always competed week in and week out and never felt we got enough respect. The opportunity to come back into the Big 12 is real satisfying, knowing they are giving us the opportunity once again to show what we have,” said Paschal, a quarterback who passed for nearly 3,000 yards a year ago.
Because of that lack of respect, they enter the Big 12 with an attitude.
“We feel like we have a chip on our shoulder because when we were in the Mountain West everyone doubted us, saying when you get on the field with the bigger teams you can’t really compete. We want to prove to people we can,” Pachall said.
If TCU is as good as its seems to be, it makes the Big 12 stronger, just as West Virginia brings a lot to the conference, but Patterson insists it isn’t only TCU that comes out a winner in this.
“I would say this to you, and I’ve kind of used this line, I think Fort Worth, before we play a ball game, wins. I think before we play a ballgame, TCU wins financially, credibility-wise,” he said.
“Gary Patterson’s job got harder,” the coach continued. “That’s OK. If you look at what we’ve had to accomplish and the facilities, we were walking a mile and a half to practice 15 years ago. Now our practice fields are right outside. So there are a lot of things that stand in front of us but I would say as a university and as a group totally that we do feel like that we’re a little bit more stable in what we’re doing.”
Already there has been a $164 million renovation to Amon G. Carter Stadium, which seats 45,000, and with that and the move into the Big 12 the school sold all 30,000 of its season tickets for the first time in school history, up from 22,500 last year and 14,000 just three years ago.
Unlike with WVU, this is not a cultural change for TCU. They are Texas as a tumbleweed.
“We’ve been recruiting against the Big 12 for the last seven or eight years. And we always felt like if we could get a few of those guys that could play at that level that we could win the Mountain West or whatever conference we were part of. And we’ve won more of those battles here in the three or four years. So we know a lot about the players,” Patterson said.
“Most of those teams we’re talking about have Texas players. We recruited them. We had them in camp. We understand the kind of players they have. It’s no different,” he continued. “That’s the one great thing about coming back in the Big 12 for us is that when you do step on the field, you’re stepping on the field that you knew all kids, they’re going to know guys they played against in high school.
“There’s a natural challenge to all of this. And after you leave the field — you know, you’ve heard me say this a lot, and I truly believe it, for three hours you’ve got to hate each other. It’s a violent game; go get after each other.
“But afterwards I firmly believe it’s about life and how do you help everybody else and it’s about friendships and relationships. I keep talking to alumni all the time now coming back into the Big 12 of the people they played against from Baylor and Texas Tech and Texas, if you go down the list of alumni that talk about their friends and how they tailgate together. Now they’re going to get a chance every year to go, whether it’s at their place or ours, they’re going to get a chance to spend a whole day with them or maybe a couple of days.”
That is a bit different than the experience will be for West Virginia.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.