“There are no second-tier bowls.” That’s the message that TCU Football coach Gary Patterson has been preaching since the Frogs found themselves bowl-eligible and invited to the hilariously-named Cheez-It Bowl, taking place this evening in Phoenix, AZ.
Despite the fact that fans poo-poo’ed the game, feeling it wasn’t up to expectations, you won’t see disappointment on the faces of the players or coaches when they take the field at Chase Field this evening. For a program used to winning, finishing with a winning record - and beating an up-and-coming Cal team, would be a sweet send-off to 2018. And Gary Patterson can certainly appreciate that. “Coming into the season, we won 40 ball games in four years. For [the seniors] to get back to a bowl game, especially a bowl game like this, get an opportunity to play against a good opponent and that’s how they get a chance to end their career, hopefully with a win and a winning season. It is big for us. Just sitting here is a success story with everything they went through, with all of the injuries that we had. In 36 years, I’ve never been through anything like this.”
While many in Texas may disregard unranked, 7-5 Cal, don’t be fooled by the Bears’ record coming in. This is one of the absolute best defenses in the country, one that can go toe-to-toe with GP in both scheme and talented. And though many would say fans don’t appreciate good defense anymore, this game could change their minds. “Both play good defense,” Patterson said earlier this week during a bowl game press conference. “Both offenses are trying to prove at the end of the season that they can do the things we need to do to win ballgames. I think that’s what makes football a lot of fun. I’ll be honest with you – it is a great matchup.”
Patterson went on to explain that “both teams kind of come at you”, a sentiment that will be heard and felt across the stadium and through televisions in the homes of Cal and Frog fans nationwide. Despite looking like a mash unit, TCU’s defense can still bring it, and the Bears will run out a squad that has proven time and time again, against some of the best offenses in the Pac-12, they can force some bad days for really good players. “Cal is kind of built like a defensive coach. They’re going to play good defense, try to be opportunistic on offense,” Patterson said. He went on to explain that Cal’s squad mirrored his in a variety of ways. “I would look at it -- the things that are probably very much the same. I think one of the things that happened with them is they really stepped up their game defensively.” Though one team will roll out a redshirt senior and the other a redshirt freshman at QB, neither player comes in with much experience. That should make things ‘fun’ for the defense, and put the pressure on the offense to be the one that best takes advantage of the limited opportunities presented. That’s something that propelled Cal to wins down the stretch, according to Coach P. “Offensively they became opportunistic, making sure that random football tried to be played but really tried to control the football and take advantage of what was given to them. Both offenses trying to prove at the end of the season that they can do the things we need to do to win ball games.”
Cal coach Justin Wilcox echoes that sentiment as well, knowing that his Bears face a tough challenge from TCU’s defense, and, of course, their head coach. “Well, since Coach Patterson has been there, they’ve been one of the best programs in the country. We have a ton of respect for them. They’ve got great athletes on both sides of the ball. They’re really well-coached. We know it will be a battle. So we’ll have to play our best game to win.”
It’s the master and the apprentice facing off Wednesday evening, in a game that most would think doesn’t mean much to either. But that would be a short-sighted look at one program trying to maintain their winning culture, and another trying to build it. “This will be -- since I’ve been at TCU, this will be the 19th bowl game in 21 years that we’ve been a part of, so get a chance to add one more win, hopefully get a chance to do that against, I think, a very good opponent in Cal. One of the things about bowl games is they’re springboards of what your team is, how you’re going to move forward going into spring ball. Because you’re not just trying to win this ball game. You’re also trying to grow your team up so you don’t go 6-6 next year.”
The journey back to national prominence begins tonight for Gary Patterson and TCU. He’s looking forward to it. “I think that’s what makes football a lot of fun. I’ll be honest with you, it is a great matchup.”