THE NEXT DAY, Ohio State held a 3--2 halftime lead over Akron at the Horseshoe. West Virginia trailed Marshall at the half 13--6. Florida State fell behind Alabama-Birmingham 17-3; Wisconsin had to score in the last two minutes to avert a loss at UNLV. All of those double-digit favorites came away with victories, but one upset did come to fruition. After turning the ball over five times, 17th-ranked Auburn lost to South Florida 26--23 in overtime.
While the Horned Frogs watched 300 on the three-hour bus ride from Fort Worth to Austin, they were not exactly the Spartans to the Longhorns' Persian army. TCU came into the game ranked 19th. Taking their cue from their überintense coach, Gary Patterson, the defending Mountain West Conference champs have won 11 games in three of the last four seasons. They'd knocked off five straight foes from the Big 12—a league whose teams the Horned Frogs take special pleasure in bringing low.
The trip down I-35 wasn't just a chance to head north in the polls. It was a chance to redress old grievances. When the Southwest Conference merged with what was then the Big Eight in 1995, four of its teams were invited to join the new league. TCU was not among them. Cast into a kind of college football diaspora, the Frogs spent the next 10 years bouncing from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West, taking the field against conference foes from Hawaii to East Carolina.
Dennis Franchione restored some luster to the program in the late 1990s, and when he left to take the coaching job at Alabama after the 2000 season, Patterson, his defensive coordinator, was bumped up. His promotion was met with some skepticism among the Frogs faithful, who thought he was too unpolished. But GP, as he is known by his staff, has fared better than his old boss.
In a state in which he is forced to make due with the Longhorns' table scraps, Patterson has built a small empire by recruiting fast players, who are then often asked to change positions. (Five of the Frogs' defensive linemen last season were running backs in high school.) Even as he stokes his players' furnaces by reminding them of all the programs that overlooked them, Patterson is not above griping that his program is overlooked. After his swarming, blitzing Frogs held Texas Tech without a touchdown in a 12--3 win last season, Red Raiders coach Mike Leach lamented that his team had given "the sorriest offensive effort I've ever seen."
The remark galled Patterson, who wondered, Would it kill the guys TCU beats to give some credit to the players who had just beaten them? "People have been underselling our kids for years," he declared before the TV cameras. "All they ever want to do is talk about the Big 12. We're not the Big 12—just a Texas team playing with Texas players."
Then, the money quote:
"I get tired of being treated like the stepchild in this state and in this town."
Gary and the Stepchildren promptly lost their next two games. But he found an unlikely ally in Brown, who concluded, after studying a load of video of the Frogs last spring, that they are underappreciated.
"I don't think the college football world's been fair to 'em," Brown was saying last Friday. That may have been Mack's conscience talking. The Frogs finished last season ranked 21st in the coaches poll—no thanks to Brown, who left 11--2 TCU off his final ballot.
AT 8 P.M. last Friday, Patterson stood behind his defense in a meeting room at the Marriott in Round Rock, Texas, brandishing a laser pointer the way Leonard Bernstein wielded a baton. He alternated between speaking to his players in coded language—"Cobra gate, rip five ... Five Tampa sticks, overset hog"—and making some points in plain English.