There’s no doubt about it: Texas Christian University has one of the silliest mascots in the country.
The Horned Frogs.
But what is not silly at all is the success that TCU’s football team has had in recent years.
The team has gone to nine bowl games in the ten years that Gary Patterson has coached, winning four in a row before losing 17-10 to Boise State in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
More impressively, the team has racked up back-to-back undefeated seasons, winning 24 out of its last 25 games with that loss to the Broncos as their only blemish.
Being the only undefeated team in the country to be shut out of the BCS Championship Game, TCU still struggles at times with a lack of respect.
After all, the team competes in the Mountain West, one of those conferences that Ohio State University president Gordon Gee just dismissed as being made up of teams equivalent in talent to “the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
No question that TCU feels it has a lot to prove as they prepare to face the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl on January 1.
So the question becomes, can TCU, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “prove it all night” against the 11-1 Badgers?
The numbers certainly suggest that they can.
While the Badgers have been a breathtaking example of offensive power and efficiency, scoring more than 30 points in every one of their final seven games and a ridiculous 201 combined points in just their last three, TCU has been just as good.
In fact, TCU and Wisconsin are tied for fourth in the country in scoring offense, both totaling 43.3 points a game. But TCU has been even better than the Badgers in total offense, gaining more yards both through the air and even on the ground while maintaining a greater than two-minute time of possession advantage over the Badgers.
TCU’s passing attack is led by senior Andy Dalton, who has more wins as a starter, 41, than any other quarterback in the nation. Behind a solid and experienced offensive line, Dalton faces less pressure than most quarterbacks do just deciding what checkout line to use at the grocery store: He’s been sacked just nine times all season. Completing 66 percent of his passes for 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions, Dalton is ranked fifth in the nation in pass efficiency, just one spot lower than—you guessed it—Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien.
Undoubtedly, more surprising to most Badgers fans is that TCU has run the ball this year with just as much success as the Badgers. Both schools average a nice 5.5 yards per carry. And just as the Badgers have done it with the three-headed monster of John Clay, James White and Montee Ball, TCU has three impressive backs of its own with Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James.
In another eerie similarity, just as Clay has been slowed by injury, so has Wesley. Though both backs claim they will be back to 100 percent by January 1, neither team's rushing attack should suffer too much either way.
If TCU has an edge, it is on the defensive side of the ball. While Wisconsin was more than respectable on defense (finishing as the 29th ranked unit in college football), the horned frogs were downright nasty, allowing fewer points, yards and rushing yards than any other school in the country. Their unit is led by LB Tank Carder, who earned Mountain West defensive player of the year honors while racking up 54 tackles.
Both TCU’s and Wisconsin’s defensive units had the advantage of playing with huge leads most of the season. Assuming the Rose Bowl is close—and all statistics suggest it will be—it will be fascinating to see how the units respond to the pressure of a tight game. If a big defensive play is needed to stop a drive or preserve the victory, does any Badger follower not think that Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt will be there to make it?
While most of the scrutiny being directed at TCU involves whether they can “play with the big boys” in what is generally seen as the second highest-profile bowl game of the year, it’s somewhat shocking to discover that most RPI and computer-based rankings suggest that TCU actually played a tougher schedule than the Badgers did in 2010.
For example, final regular-season RPI rankings have TCU surviving an undefeated season having faced the 72nd toughest schedule of the year, while the Badgers played the 79th most difficult schedule in 2010. Not a big difference, but certainly contrary to most people’s perceptions of who had the easiest road to the Rose Bowl. (While the Horned Frogs faced some fairly respected opponents like Utah, Air Force and San Diego State, the Badgers are docked big points for that Austin Peay non-conference matchup.)
The Badgers are saying all of the right things heading into their Rose Bowl matchup against TCU. There is no indication that Bret Bielema or any of his players are treating the Horned Frogs as anything remotely resembling, again in Gordon Gee’s words, “the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
Because if they did, the Badgers, and not just TCU’s mascot, might end up the silly-looking ones come Jan. 1.