Like just about every other fan watching the Big 12 championship game between Texas and Nebraska, Gary Patterson held his breath when Colt McCoy's pass floated out-of-bounds and the game clock went to zero at Cowboys Stadium last Saturday night. The TCU coach, who sat on the edge of his seat in his Fort Worth home with his wife, Kelsey (a Texas alum), wasn't ready to book his flight to Pasadena just yet. "I thought there was probably still a second left," he said on Sunday. Patterson, of course, was right; moments later he watched helplessly as Hunter Lawrence kicked the game-winning field goal, all but ensuring that the 12--0 Horned Frogs would not get a shot at Alabama in the national title game. "It would have been a lot easier if it were a 30-point game," says Patterson. "To know that we were maybe three feet away—that's tough."
Though TCU finished fourth behind Cincinnati in the final BCS rankings, by .0042 points, a Texas loss most likely would have improved the Horned Frogs' No. 5 ranking with the computers, giving them the points they needed to finish second. (The Bearcats were second in the computers, a spot ahead of the Longhorns.) Instead of becoming the first school from a nonautomatic qualifying conference to appear in a BCS championship game, TCU will face Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4. Despite the Longhorns' unimpressive performance, only a handful of voters moved TCU ahead of Texas in the coaches' poll. Patterson was one of them. All season long he had ranked his Horned Frogs behind Alabama, Florida and Texas, but after seeing the five other undefeated teams play last Saturday, he says he "came away feeling that our team deserved a chance [at a national championship]. I feel like I owed it to my players to move us from Number 4 to Number 2, because I have no doubt we could match up with any program out there."
There's no reason to think otherwise. The Horned Frogs won at Clemson and BYU. They smothered then No. 16 Utah by 27 points. They rank first in the nation in total defense and fourth in total offense and points per game. Patterson, though, doesn't think the system needs to be changed; in fact, President Barack Obama has more interest in a playoff than the bespectacled 49-year-old coach does. "I'm not against a playoff," he says. "I just don't see how a playoff system helps the TCUs and Boise States of the world. You can't tell me there's going to be only one SEC team in a field of eight or 10—we still have to go undefeated. So how is that any different than what we have now? In some ways, I think we have an easier path right now."
PURPLE POWER Patterson may have the most balanced team in the country.