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While TCU now is in a 'big league,' the Horned Frogs have been playing big games for a while now

Mike Huguenin
Yahoo Sports

DALLAS – TCU has the third-highest winning percentage in the nation among FBS programs over the past decade, but in a way, the Horned Frogs are starting over this fall.

They have left behind the WAC (their league from 1996-2000), Conference USA (2001-04) and the Mountain West (2005-11), and have moved into the big time – the Big 12. (Well, they're returning to the big time: TCU was a member of the now-defunct Southwest Conference from 1923-95.)

"Obviously it's been a long journey for us," TCU coach Gary Patterson said Monday, the first day of the Big 12 Media Days event. "We've been through a lot of different conferences along our way."

But Patterson takes exception to the idea that only now are the Horned Frogs ready for their close-up.

"As a head coach, just being honest with you … if I said, well, now we're in the big time, then what I'm saying is the Rose Bowl game [after the 2010 season] didn't count, that playing in the Fiesta Bowl [after the 2009 season] didn't count," he said.

TCU is the sixth school to make the move into a "Big Six" conference since the BCS came into existence

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Gary Patterson's team has lost just three times in the past three seasons. (AP)

in 1998. The others: Connecticut moved from the independent ranks to the Big East in 2004; Cincinnati, Louisville and USF moved from C-USA to the Big East in '05; and Utah moved from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 in 2011. UConn, Cincinnati and Louisville have played in a BCS bowl since joining the Big East. As with TCU, Utah had played in a BCS game before moving up.

TCU is joining the Big 12 this season along with West Virginia, which left the Big East. The league will remain at 10 members because Missouri and Texas A&M departed for the SEC.

"Our league got stronger" with the additions, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. That wasn't meant as a slight at Mizzou and A&M; instead, Rhoads pointed out the new teams "are that good right now." TCU and WVU are expected to open the season in the top 25.

But Patterson knows the hard work has just begun.

"Everybody needs to calm down," he said, tongue only partly in cheek. "You have not arrived just because you're in the Big 12. … Our fans need to understand that being in the Big 12 doesn't make you special. Winning in the Big 12 is what makes you special."

The winning should start this fall. The Horned Frogs might return only nine starters, but there are 42 returning lettermen from a team that has lost just three times in the past three seasons. TCU is used to winning.

While TCU's reputation was built on having a top-flight defense, their potent offense will be right at home in the Big 12. Oklahoma cornerback Demontre Hurst was almost rueful discussing the league's new additions: "Their offenses are up-tempo. That's nothing different for the defenses. It just got harder."

Quarterback Casey Pachall threw for 2,921 yards and 25 TDs last season, his first as the starter. Pachall set school single-season records for completions (228), completion percentage (66.5) and passing yards. There are solid position groups at tailback and wide receivers, though the offensive line needs three new starters.

Ironically, the biggest questions surround the defense, which is going to see better offenses more regularly now that it is in the Big 12. The dismissals of starting tackle D.J. Yendrey and starting linebacker Tanner Brock in February after they were arrested on drug charges mean questions about the front six (TCU runs a 4-2-5 set). The secondary, which needs four new starters, already was a concern.

But Patterson knows this isn't a one-season deal.

"I don't think it's a quick race," he said. "I don't think it's one of those situations where we're going to define TCU on what happens in 2012."

The opposing players and coaches who spoke Monday were unanimous in their praise of the Horned Frogs, with Oklahoma center Ben Habern's comments basically summing things up.

"They're ready to compete," he said. "And they're ready to show they can compete. … They've played in some huge games; they've played in some BCS games."

With the move to the Big 12 comes a tougher schedule. Using the NCAA's strength of schedule rating, TCU's schedule was 38th-toughest in the nation last fall. That would've been the weakest schedule in the Big 12, which had five teams in the nation's top 10 in that category. Another three were in the top 20, and the lowest was Texas Tech at 34th.

The tougher schedule excites defensive end Russ Forrest.

"It's so much fun to be on the big stages," he said. "The stadiums are electric. … There are more people who want to see you lose. The bigger the odds, the more exciting it is for us."

There won't be any more games against the likes of Mountain West bottom-feeders UNLV or New Mexico or Colorado State. That's fine with senior guard Blaize Foltz.

"It's the little games you have to get up for," he said.

Will there be more big games this season?

Foltz laughed.

"Yeah."

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