Frank Heinz, NBCDFW.com
The third-ranked Horned Frogs will face another unbeaten team, No. 6 Boise State, in a game billed as the "BCS Buster Bowl," the first meeting of non-automatic qualifiers on college football's biggest stage.
Texas Christian's flight to Phoenix only took a couple of hours.
The Horned Frogs' journey to the Bowl Championship Series was a lot longer.
It's been three weeks since the Fiesta Bowl paired the third-ranked Frogs with another unbeaten, No. 6 Boise State, in a game billed as the "BCS Buster Bowl," the first meeting of non-automatic qualifiers on college football's biggest stage.
And it's been more than a decade since coach Gary Patterson arrived in Fort Worth with hopes of resurrecting a program with a long and colorful history.
"You probably think we've been waiting three weeks to get here," Patterson told Fiesta Bowl volunteers after the Frogs arrived at Sky Harbor Airport on Tuesday afternoon. "I've been waiting 12 years at TCU."
Patterson spent three seasons as TCU's defensive coordinator before taking the reins for the 2000 GMAC Bowl. He's 85-27 at TCU, and his 85 victories are second in school history to Dutch Meyer, who won 109 games and coached the Horned Frogs to The Associated Press national title in 1938.
"It's been a long stretch for us," Patterson said. "Twelve years ago, people said this couldn't be done."
No wonder TCU's arrival on a sunny, 60-degree afternoon felt like a party, with a mariachi band greeting the traveling party as it deplaned.
But the Horned Frogs will get to work soon. TCU planned to have its first on-site practice on Wednesday afternoon at Pinnacle High School -- the first of five workouts before Monday night's game.
Patterson said the Frogs have already benefited from being a part of the BCS. He said that he and his staff have been able to talk to recruits who might have snubbed the program in the past.
"Probably the biggest hurdle that we've had to get over recruiting-wise at TCU is the, quote, automatic qualifier conferences would say, 'Well, you don't want to go to TCU because you're never going to play for the national championship, you'll never get to a BCS bowl,' " Patterson said. "And no longer is that hurdle there."
"We're able to get into some homes that maybe even three weeks ago, we weren't able to do," Patterson said. "As far as the other things, just on a national stage, I don't know if you can even put it into words what it's been able to do for us."
The Horned Frogs are 12-0 for the first time, and for a few hours on Dec. 5 it appeared that they might slip into the BCS title game.
Third-ranked Texas found itself in an ugly defensive struggle with No. 21 Nebraska in the Big 12 playoff, and a Longhorns loss may have cleared the way for TCU to become the first school from a non-automatic qualifying conference to play for the national title.
The Longhorns kicked a field goal on the final play to pull out a 13-12 victory, and that ended TCU's hopes. And the next day, unbeaten Cincinnati nosed past TCU in the final BCS standings, so it may not have mattered anyway.
But Patterson apparently hasn't spent much time wondering about what might have been. He said the Horned Frogs would be fired up to face the Broncos (13-0) in Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium.
"I can tell you right now that when they asked me, if I had a choice, this is where I wanted to go," Patterson said. "And Boise was the team I wanted to play. You want to play the best."