Some call it a journey, others a process. Since that day in February of 1994 when the demise of the Southwest Conference was announced, TCU has traveled a relentless road that included stops in three conferences with a brief stopover/flirtation with a fourth.
The wait officially ends at 6 p.m. Saturday when No. 17 TCU opens the 2012 season against Grambling State in newly renovated Amon Carter Stadium. Since the announcement last October that the school had accepted its invitation to join the Big 12 Conference, TCU and the city of Fort Worth has been giddy with excitement.
That excitement about returning to an elite conference was tempered by the fact that the schedule called for the Frogs to wait a week before getting things started.
"I'm excited," said TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga, the only Horned Frog named to the Big 12 preseason All-Conference team.. "I've been wanting to play those (Big 12) teams all my life, ever since I was in middle school, seeing those teams on TV."
The debut of a new stadium, the entry into a new conference plus the anticipation of Patterson becoming the most successful coach in TCU history has increased the importance of what would usually be a yawner of a season opener.
"It's just amazing that all this happens at once," said Patterson, whose 109 victories in 11 seasons matches Dutch Meyer for the most in school history.
The Frogs coach also understands that what's important is what happens on the field. TCU won its last 24 games in the Mountain West Conference and 50 of its last 55 games. In 2010, the Frogs went 13-0, beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll.
"Our group has to understand, you have not arrived just because we got to the Big 12," he said. "Being in the Big 12 doesn't make you special. Winning makes you special. That's how we got back to this point - winning.
"Everything we've done to this point is great. But now the real work starts. "It's another way we've got to keep climbing the mountain. The higher you get on a mountain, the thinner the air, the harder it is. So for us we're going to keep doing that."
Hello, My Name Is ...
In season-opening victories, Kansas and Oklahoma benefitted from the play of two running backs who fit in the "Who's He?" category.
The Jayhawks' Taylor Cox and the Sooners' Damien Williams both were junior-college stand outs last season. Williams led all junior-college backs last season in rushing yards and helped carry Arizona Western to the JUCO national championship game. In 10 games last season, Cox gained 1,507 yards and scored 14 touchdowns for College of The Siskiyous which is located on the California-Oregon border.
"Weed, California," KU coach Charlie Weis told the Kansas City Star. "I'm telling you what ... go on navigation and see if you can find it. It's a tough place to find."
The Jayhawks are deep at running back but Cox got an opportunity because James Sims, last season's leading rusher, is suspended for the first three games. In the opener, Cox gained 121 yards on 16 carries. Weis likes the fact that Cox has a combination of speed, quickness and power.
Williams' 65-yard touchdown run late in the game clinched the Sooners' 24-7 victory at UTEP last Saturday. He finished with 10 carries for 103 yards.
Oklahoma had not planned on recruiting a junior-college running back until three players left the roster during the offseason.
"We were fortunate to get in and get a guy whose potentially has a chance to be a good player for us," OU running backs coach Cale Gundy said. "He has really learned the offense really, really fast. He's really picked it up really well. I've been really impressed with him."
Tough Game For Texas Tech
Texas State formerly was one of those "directional" schools. Located in San Marcos, Texas - between Austin and San Antonio - the school used to be known as Southwest Texas State. It also was an FCS school before it moved up to FBS status this season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference (for this year; next year it joins the Sun Belt).
So, for the majority of college football fans, Texas Tech facing Texas State Saturday is categorized as one of those non-conference games where Big School is paying Small School for a guaranteed victory.
That might have been Houston's approach last Saturday but the Bobcats - five touchdown underdogs according to the oddsmakers - stunned the Cougars, 30-13. Texas State is coached by former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione.
"Everybody asked me about them," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I noticed a lot of teams over the years wanting to go from I-AA to Division I status. They want to do it, but they don't put the effort into it.
"Texas State has done it right. They put money into it. They've hired a coaching staff, and they've hired a coach that's been there done that. They're not a wannabe. They're putting their money where their mouth is, and we're walking into a tough situation."
Texas State has expanded its stadium to seat 30,000 as it transitions to college football's highest division. Extra seating has been added for the Red Raiders' visit which is being called the biggest game in school history.
"We'll have several of those this year, and we have to learn how to do it," Tuberville said. "It will be a good experience for us."
Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder and his staff are receiving a boost in pay. Snyder is receiving a $250,000 raise that pushes his annual salary to $2.2 million. Snyder's long-term contract also rolled over, as it does every year, while adding a fifth year. The nine K-State assistant coaches have also received a raise of 20 percent.
Oklahoma State faces a challenging road game at Arizona Saturday but the Cowboys have become one of college football's best road teams. Oklahoma State lost 12 of its first 16 road games under coach Mike Gundy but over the last three seasons the Cowboys are 11-2 on the road. Their 10 road victories over the last two seasons are tied for the most in the country.
When Rice visits Kansas Saturday, the Jayhawks' special teams will need to pay attention to Owls linebacker Cameron Nwosu. He set an NCAA record by blocking three extra points in the season-opening loss to UCLA.
Iowa State plays at Iowa Saturday and the Hawkeyes lead the series 39-20. But since breaking a 15-year losing streak in 1998, the Cyclones are 8-6 against their rivals.
Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown on last year's game-winning goal line stand against Miami (Fla.), Saturday's opponent:
"That established who we were as a defense. It really helped build our confidence not only as a defense, but as a team, that we could play with anyone in the country, so I really think that was the defining moment not only for that time, or for that game, but for the whole season."
Oklahoma State benefactor T. Boone Pickens on his preferences for the Cowboys' nonconference schedule:
"I just think we could do better. Notre Dame is already booked, but I'd just as soon play Notre Dame. Everybody wants to play Notre Dame. ... I just want to play a stronger nonconference schedule."
TCU coach Gary Patterson on his team's lack of experience:
"I'm not going to treat them like a young football team. Young football teams lose."
Baylor coach Art Briles on his team's 59-24 defeat of SMU in the season opener:
"The thing we're proud of is the way we played and approached the game with a lot of determination and hunger and a chip on our shoulder. The media helped us because there are a bunch of doubters. But these guys have pride and showed how they can play."