It was as if David was acting as grief counselor to Goliath's next of kin. There was TCU coach Gary Patterson consoling Wisconsin players J.J. Watt and Scott Tolzien after their post--Rose Bowl press conference. Watt was overcome by emotion following his team's 21--19 loss to the Horned Frogs, and his voice had cracked as he answered a reporter's question. The junior defensive end had paused, covered his eyes and taken a moment to collect himself. As they descended from the dais, Patterson reminded Watt and Tolzien that they were great players and told them to keep their heads up.
"They're a class act," the coach said later. "They wanted to win as badly as our kids."
As long as he was providing aid and comfort to the Badgers, Patterson might as well have extended blanket condolences to the humiliated Big Ten. The conference rang in 2011 by losing all five of its New Year's Day bowl games.
In last Saturday's other BCS bowl, the Fiesta, Oklahoma swatted aside Connecticut 48--20. While the Huskies have made huge strides since jumping from Division I-AA in 2002, there were easily 15 teams more deserving of a BCS berth than 8--4 UConn. It rated that lucrative invite solely for having won the Big East, which suffered through another lousy season. You could hardly blame the conference, then, for going after the Horned Frogs, who announced in November that they will join the Big East in 2012.
It was the professional wrestler and part-time philosopher Ric (Nature Boy) Flair who noted, "To be the man, you've gotta beat the man." Before joining forces with the Man—the BCS system that has often treated them shabbily—the Frogs struck a blow against him. TCU's stirring win over the Big Ten co-champs in Pasadena demonstrated yet again that the line separating college football's haves and have-nots (the automatic-qualifying conferences and the non-AQ conferences) is arbitrary and unjust.
College football must never have a playoff, BCS proponents argue, because a playoff would "dilute" the regular season. As BCS executive director Bill Hancock is fond of saying, "Every game counts." Perhaps Hancock can explain to the 13--0 Horned Frogs why, if each of their games counted this season, they failed to contend for a national championship. (This is the eighth time in the BCS era that a team has run the table but not played in the national title game. Seven of those teams were from non-AQ conferences.)
None of this muted the joy of the players and coaches in purple in the chaotic, confetti-strewn moments after the game. "I don't really care about the national championship right now—I'm livin' in the moment," declared TCU defensive end Wayne Daniels.
The 97th Rose Bowl more than lived up to its billing as a clash of football cultures: the depth, offensive firepower and impeccable pedigree of the Badgers versus the speed, quickness and pluck of the arriviste Frogs, champions of the Mountain West.
Wisconsin, which had lost only one game, to Michigan State, tried acting the underdog's part in the weeks leading up to the game. Even when one considered their respective rankings—the Badgers were No. 4, TCU No. 3—it wasn't a comfortable fit. Behind a monstrous, athletic offensive line anchored by left tackle and Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin's trio of backs rushed for 2,829 yards in 2010. Six times this season the Badgers scored 41 or more points; three times they broke the 70-point barrier. They hung 83 on poor Indiana.
True, TCU had allowed an average of only 89 rushing yards per game and had led the nation in total defense for the third straight year. But Badgers fans noted, hopefully, that Patterson's patented 4-2-5 scheme—a kind of permanent nickel defense—was designed to slow spread offenses. These Badgers were interested in spreading defenses, yes, but in a different way, the way a Caterpillar paving machine spreads asphalt.