ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - TCU's players handed out roses on the sideline after defeating New Mexico, symbolizing what's next - a possible Rose Bowl trip.
The No. 3 Horned Frogs (12-0, 8-0) had just capped a perfect regular season for the second straight year, winning 66-17 on Saturday. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson dashed into the boisterous locker room and handed over the trophy for TCU's second consecutive league title.
One night earlier, the Frogs had another celebration at the team hotel.
When Nevada upset Boise State late Friday night, it opened an easier path for the Horned Frogs to a BCS game or perhaps a chance to play for the national title.
TCU coach Gary Patterson said he felt bad for Boise State because both the Broncos and Frogs are from non-automatic qualifying conferences, and both faced the potential of being locked out of the big games -- at least until Boise State's loss gave TCU a major boost.
So while Nevada students rushed the field in Reno, there was pandemonium in Albuquerque.
"I could hear cheers throughout the hotel. I might have been involved a little bit," TCU tailback Ed Wesley said. "We were watching with our roommates. Every time something happened, people would run out into the hallway for high fives in their underwear."
Patterson heard it, too, and realized he was helpless to stall his team's interest or, for that matter, enforce curfew.
"I walked out into the hotel and everybody was out of their rooms at 12:30 at night. I was a little worried about getting some sleep," he recalled.
If form holds next week across the college football landscape, it could be a purple Rose Bowl for TCU. Orange Bowl representatives also were on hand for Saturday's win.
Of course, Patterson and his players are holding out hope that top-ranked Oregon loses next week to Oregon State, or No. 2 Auburn could be upset by South Carolina in the SEC title game. Either scenario likely would put the Frogs into the BCS national title game.
Asked if he had any advice next week for Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, Patterson hoarsely replied: "Score one more point."
Patterson smiled when he said that, a subtle reference to all the talk last week about scoring points in the buildup to TCU's dominating victory over lowly New Mexico -- all because the Lobos (1-11, 1-7) had opened with a 72-0 loss at Oregon.
Patterson had been asked whether the Frogs needed to win big to match Oregon's effort and thus maintain favor with voters. Nonsense, he said, explaining that he'd be happy to score one more point than the Lobos. Patterson backed it up by keeping Andy Dalton on the sideline in the second half as TCU's standout quarterback nursed a mild elbow injury from the second quarter.
TCU used its base offense under reserve quarterback Casey Pachall but still put up numbers voters expected. After a bumpy second quarter where two turnovers led to New Mexico scores, the Frogs scored five unanswered touchdowns in the second half.
The 66 points were a season high for TCU's high-octane offense.
"We ran the ball the last quarter and a half and we didn't throw a pass," Patterson said. "I'm not going to quit doing what was right. They knew I wasn't going to quit doing what's right for the sake of a national championship."
Dalton, held out as a precaution, is expected to be fine.
Before taking a helmet to the elbow on a sack that left his right arm numb, Dalton threw three TD passes. He became TCU's career leader with 10,022 yards passing and took over as the Mountain West's total offense leader with 11,617 yards.
Even better for TCU, the numbness was gone by the fourth quarter.
"I feel all right," Dalton said. "I'll be back and ready to go for the bowl game."
TCU's seniors set a record with their 43rd victory, the most successful class in school history. Dalton said the Horned Frogs have been defined this season by their ability to ignore distractions about where the team should fit in the BCS standings, about TCU's postseason prospects and other issues the players can't control.
Don't expect the Frogs to change their approach, even now.
"The way everything has happened this year, we knew we just had to take care of our business, play our game and not worry about everything else," Dalton said. "You don't know what's going to happen because you can't control those things, but we can control the way we play."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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