TCU Football fans have feelings as mixed as a bag of Cheez-It Snack Mix about their team’s postseason destination this year, ranging from “just glad we got to a bowl game” to utter disbelief that the overlords would elect to take two teams that the Frogs beat down the stretch for seemingly ‘better’ bowl games in Baylor and Oklahoma State.
But, to hear TCU coach Gary Patterson - and for that matter, his opponent in the Cheez-It Bowl, Justin Wilcox - say it, playing in Phoenix is just as meaningful as playing in the NY6. “We have never thought about it being a lower bowl, to be honest with you. A bowl game is a bowl game - you’re playing against a team that won. The best thing about bowl games, you get your seniors an opportunity to play one more game. You always try and give your seniors the best present going out - playing one more ball game. ” And Patterson seems especially satisfied to be returning to Arizona, a place his program has played twice before and has always treated him well. “We love - our staff, anybody who has been around our program - this is our 21st year and everybody remembers going west, coming to Phoenix and being a part of [bowls there]. We are excited about coming that direction - we don’t look at it as a lower bowl at all. We look at it as an opportunity at a place where people have always been taking care of and where the hospitality has been unbelievable. We are going to try and pay them back by trying to give them as good a football team as we can here at TCU to play in the game.” For a program that is working towards recruiting the west coast more and more, that certainly has its advantages.
Additionally, the matchup with Cal is more fun than one might think if you take just a cursory glance - the two defense are elite, with Cal finishing #12 overall in S&P and the Frogs’ patchwork unit 22nd (TCU played five elite, top 30, offenses while Cal faced four) and should make for a fascinating schematic matchup between the old guard and the next iteration of defense genius - led by two coaches that know each other very well from Justin Wilcox’s time at Boise State. And what can’t be overstated is how critical the extra weeks of practice are, especially for a Horned Frogs’ team that has so many young players that will need to make a leap before spring ball hits. “You’re looking at some of the other teams that have never been to bowl games - I was watching the selection show today and how Eastern Michigan - they haven’t been to a bowl in a while - and how they look at it. It’s always in the eyes of the beholder, and for our kids, especially the younger ones coming up - it’s a springboard, being excited about getting 10, 11, 12 more practices to get better, to push yourself into spring and the next season.” One must also factor in the unlikeliness of TCU even being in this position - what with 27 season-ending injuries, 40 players missing at least four games, and the Frogs needing to win back to back games, one on the road and one against one of the conference’s hottest teams, with their third string quarterback. “We are fighting through it, because three of four weeks ago, we weren’t sure we would be in this position, that we would be in a bowl game. So to be in this opportunity, for us, it’s great for our seniors and great for our staff.”
Patterson has a lot of seniors that deserve one last shot to put on the purple, and a lot of young guys who will benefit from the reps in practice and in the weight room. And, maybe most important of all, these players won’t have the stigma of being one of just three teams to not make a bowl in Patterson’s long illustrious career - and they certainly know it. Sure, it sucks to get passed over by Baylor and Oklahoma State when it comes to selection order, but the bottom line is, this team - that has truly overcome so much - fought their way to become bowl eligible. And they deserve our support for their fortitude. So whether it’s games sponsored by cheesy, crunchy snacks, ride-on mowers, camellias, potatoes, movie rentals, or discount stores, be glad TCU is bowling. Coach P is. “That’s why you play a bowl game - it’s a positive for your players, it’s a reward for doing what you’ve been doing. Both teams want to be able to end the season playing their best football and putting on a good game. We will try and prepare and give the Cal Bears the best opponent they can possibly have. That’s what Boise and TCU have always done, they were always great ball games. So I wouldn’t expect anything less.”