Across the country on Christmas morning, millions of Americans were waking up to open their gifts.
The TCU football team was at practice and they weren’t in Texas.
Across the country on Christmas night, most of those same millions of people were having dinner with their families.
The TCU football team was having dinner with each other at the team’s hotel.
"We can spend Christmas with our families anytime" the players told coach Gary Patterson.
It was Patterson’s original plan which prompted that response when he scheduled his team to have the day off for Christmas and fly out to Pasadena on December 26th.
Coach Gary Patterson grew up on a small farm in Kansas and worked seven days a week.
Perhaps that work ethic has rubbed off on his senior players, who requested to forgo Christmas at home so they could arrive in Pasadena early to practice and prepare.
This Christmas, the TCU football team is one big family. That‘s what the players wanted.
This is Texas Christian University and this team means business.
Aside from the National Championship, by far the most intriguing bowl match up is TCU and Wisconsin.
Last year, TCU and Boise had to play each other but this time, the country will get to see what one of those teams can do against a big conference team under the spotlight.
Considering the tremendous, residual buildup of a challenge for a non-BCS team to finally make it’s case, this will likely be the most memorable Rose Bowl. Will TCU finish undefeated and bring the roses home to Texas, or will the Badgers grind out the victory and bring it home for the Big Ten?
Let’s take a closer look.
Much has been said about Wisconsin’s large offensive line, and they are a very big unit. Here’s a little "secret:" TCU’s offensive line is almost equal in size. The average weight of Wisconsin’s players on the o-line are 320 pounds, but TCU’s unit clocks in at 313 pounds.
One might assume TCU’s defensive unit could potentially be in trouble, as if this is Austin Peay, UNLV or some defense from the Big Ten.
This is the best defense in the country for two seasons in a row on a team that includes a slew of all-Americans. Considering each offensive line is about equal in size, if any defense is in for some trouble, it's not TCU's.
Besides, it’s nothing Gary Patterson's team hasn't seen before.
If the Oklahoma-TCU game from 2008 is any indication, Wisconsin better have a game plan that includes a healthy dose of passing plays.
The Sooners, who were No. 1 in offense that season among BCS teams, beat the Horned Frogs in that game, but did it through the air with Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.
TCU’s defensive front held Oklahoma to 0.7 yards per carry, their lowest output of the season by far. DeMarco Murray averaged 5.5 yards per carry that season behind his large offensive line, but obtained 23 yards on 13 carries in that game.
Even though that 2008 TCU defense featured many players who have since graduated, it was still the same Gary Patterson hard nosed defensive scheme with toughness up front against the run.
Wisconsin's trio of running backs, John Clay, Montee Ball and James White, have put up fine numbers and get a lot of attention. But TCU running back Ed Wesley gained more yards than either of them. It's true the Badgers have three quality players at the position, but only one of them can hold the football at a time.
The Badgers have the size advantage on the offensive line, but the Frogs have the speed and will not be intimidated. TCU’s defense has shut down each of the 33 teams they have faced over the last three seasons and out-gained 32 of them.
Last season, TCU went into Clemson’s Death Valley and held the Tigers and C.J. Spiller to one offensive touchdown; BYU’s Max Hall and Boise State had similar luck.
Aside from being number one in the country in pass defense, total defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, third down efficiency defense and first downs allowed, TCU also had the edge over Wisconsin in the stats when it comes to rush defense, sacks, tackles for loss, red zone defense, punt and kick returns and time of possession.
Wisconsin does hold a statistical edge in a few things, such as turnover margin and penalties committed.
Perhaps more meaningful than any statistic is the power of motivation and desire. For this game, that edge clearly goes to a Horned Frogs team that has been challenged for years to beat a quality opponent when it matters most.
The other thing is scheduling and conference placement. Many fans in and around the college football community have implied TCU hasn’t faced a tough schedule, but they played six bowl teams this season while the Badgers faced five.
Not only did TCU defeat those bowl teams, they won each game handily by an average of 27 points.
For a verbal illustration of this, just ask Robert Griffin.
"I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life" said the Baylor quarterback after a 45-10 loss to the Horned Frogs.
Surely, Griffin wasn't alone.
A few weeks later, after TCU shut down Air Force’s fierce option attack, they went into Salt Lake City for the biggest football game the state of Utah had ever seen.
Fans packed Rice-Eccles stadium and some shelled out big bucks for standing room tickets. Unfortunately for the home faithful, most of those fans headed for the exit early in the fourth quarter, because that’s how long it took Utah’s offense to make it past midfield.
TCU has easily beat every team they have faced. Even in their 40-35 win over San Diego State, they made a few mistakes in the first five minutes (including a fumble in their own end zone), a few mistakes in the last five minutes, but dominated the 50 minutes in between.
Wisconsin is a very good, very well coached team. They had a great season and have tremendous talent. They have a trio of quality running backs to compliment a veteran quarterback and one of the best offensive lines in the country.
Early in the season, they defeated Arizona State by way of a missed extra point and pulled off a thrilling fake punt to defeat Iowa by a point. Additionally, they scored "only" 27 points against San Jose State, one of the worst teams in the country.
However, the Badgers ended the season in impressive fashion, knocking off Ohio State before scoring 83, 48 and 70 points in their final three games.
In 2008, Oklahoma had the same dominant offensive line that mirrors Wisconsin’s current unit and they were even more impressive toward the end. Behind Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray, they scored 60 or more points in their final five games.
Against Florida’s great defense in the subsequent BCS bowl game, they scored one touchdown through the first three quarters.
Don’t be surprised if the same thing happens to Wisconsin.
Much has been said about whether TCU’s defensive front four can handle Wisconsin’s rushing attack. The question really should be whether Wisconsin’s offensive line can handle TCU’s defense.
Play action passing will likely be one of the offensive strategies for Bret Bielema’s Badgers. Known for their power running game, opposing defenses often stuff the box, only to fall for the fake and see a Scott Tolzien pass sail over their heads.
Tolzien is completing an amazing 74% of his passes this season, but TCU has the speed to recover so expect their defense to be on their heels and well prepared. Gary Patterson started prepping for Wisconsin right after TCU’s win over New Mexico and has been emphasizing play action defense at practice.
Bielema will have a month to study TCU’s 4-2-5 defense, but that long preparation time didn’t go too well for Boise last season, who scored one offensive touchdown in the bowl game.
In that game, Andy Dalton threw three interceptions and the Broncos also pulled off a surprise fake punt; that proved to be the difference in the game, so expect Dalton and the team to be more focused this time around.
"I think about that Boise game every day" said TCU’s Jake Kirkpatrick. The senior center is likely speaking for the whole team, who will cherish their second chance against a major conference team.
Like the speedy Jeremy Kerely who was banged up for the last five games of the regular season but is now at full speed, Kirkpatrick is healthy again after a concussion. The only question is nose tackle Kelly Griffin, who may be a game day decision.
Turnovers, tipped passes and fumbles are impossible to predict, and that may be the difference in this game.
Over the past six seasons, TCU is 70-1 in games where they don’t turn the ball over more than their opponent, but 11-10 in games where they come up on the negative side of the turnover battle.
In other words: When TCU takes care of the football and doesn’t make mistakes, they have been virtually unbeatable.
Auburn and Oregon are very lucky they get to play each other instead of TCU, because one of those teams is going to come out of that game with an undefeated record.
With a slew of eager seniors, this is Gary Patterson’s big chance. The coach had several opportunities to leave TCU for a new job, but he wanted to stay and take this school to glory.
It might not be the BCS championship game, but this game means everything to his football program that has fought nonstop over the last decade for the chance to cap off an undefeated season in style.
It's easy to forget anything that finishes "No. 2." However, everyone remembers an undefeated season and they will remember TCU.
The Badgers are solid, there’s no doubt about that. But when it comes to all 22 players on both sides of the ball, TCU is the better team and they will show it when they bring home those roses to the pretty cowgirls of Fort Worth.