Gary Patterson didn’t know the Ohio State game was going to be scheduled, when then-TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte originally signed the Frogs up to play a home and home with the Buckeyes.
“Basically what happened was Mr. Del Conte went up to a meeting and a former president there basically said something because of the Little Sisters of the Poor thing, and said ‘Ok, we’ll play you.’ Didn’t ask me.”
That being said, Patterson isn’t opposed to playing a marquee non-conference matchup, or as he calls them, “stretch” games.
“I think you need to play them, to be honest with you, you need to know every year where your team sits. We played Arkansas in Fayetteville last year. We went up to Minnesota and that team wound up like 9-3. Even though we’re not playing Ohio State next year we’re playing Purdue, right? Last time I looked they’re playing awfully well.”
“You better just get ready to play.”
What Patterson is opposed to, though, is the notion that a team has to play three “big” non-conference games each year. For him, there’s too much risk, and as a coach that has worked to advance the program in significant ways, non-conference scheduling is simply a piece of the larger picture.
“Winning breeds success. Simple. Coach Snyder did it at Kansas State...he found games, he a way to win, and once he started winning he got better players, and then you know the rest of the story.”
“I think we did the same thing here, we’ve taken guys, we’ve won through all the different conferences, and it’s taken us back to where we are right now. I think if we had been one of those schools that had scheduled three SEC teams or three Pac-12 teams or Big 10 teams for our first three games, and then we played our Mountain West schedule, I don’t think we’d be sitting where we’re sitting right now.”
And Patterson has a point. There is a lot of risk to playing big non-conference games. Injuries can happen, as we saw with LSU and Washington this week, injuries that Patterson pointed to on Tuesday.
“All I’m reading about today from all those big games is all of the players that are out for the season.”
But the reality is, injuries can happen at any time. Just look at Ross Blacklock and Michael Onyemayobi, two Frogs that are out for the season. One was a non-contact practice injury, while the other happened against Southern.
There may be more nuance to Patterson’s argument, though. With the new practice rules, a team has 25 practices to get ready for the season, sometimes less if they take a day off, and scheduling an FCS opponent helps a squad ease into a season. There’s no way TCU gets 80 different players game reps if they’re facing off against Michigan or Auburn in week one, and those reps are valuable for depth. And as Patterson says, “The bottom line is, you’ve got to get your team ready.”
But there’s also an in-between to playing the big P5 games and the FCS schools, and that’s what TCU has found in its rivalry with SMU these days - a G5 opponent who is always going to give the Frogs their best shot, and will likely find themselves near the top of their conference standings most years. That, and it’s a school less than an hour from TCU’s campus.
“I like it because of the travel part of it. It’s hard to get games anymore...it’s like a home game one way or the other because you only go about 30 minutes to get the next game whether you play here or you go there.”
Of course, TCU-SMU is much more than just a cross-town scheduling convenience. Patterson understands the rivalry too well to ever suggest otherwise.
“I’ve had a lot of alums that talk about [TCU-SMU],”Patterson said.
“It’s a rivalry game. Everybody comes with emotion.”
Come Friday, the Battle for the Iron Skillet will see it’s 98th iteration, with a 99th scheduled for 2019.
Whether it ever gets to 100 is yet to be determined, but it’s a safe assumption to make that if Jeremiah Donati consults Patterson, the Frogs and Mustangs rivalry will continue.