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Big 12 thinks TCU is ready for prime time

By Randy Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers –

FORT WORTH, Texas — The Big 12 honchos on Tuesday delivered a strong message, via the new 2012 football schedule, to Fort Frog.

That message:

“We respect you. You get prime time.”

Newcomer TCU was handed a bottom-heavy stacked slate of conference games for this fall, which includes closing out Big 12 play against Texas on Thanksgiving weekend, followed by a big surprise. Oklahoma is coming to Fort Worth on Dec. 1.

Is that what the Frogs really wanted, ‘Horns and Sooners back-to-back?

Regardless, take it as a huge compliment.

A Turkey Night national TV matchup in Austin was rumored all along, with TCU replacing Texas A&M in that spot. It’s still not official since the Tuesday schedule had the Frogs as a Saturday, Nov. 24, visitor.

But that game is almost certain to be rescheduled to Thanksgiving night.

Even more interesting is the placing of Oklahoma in Fort Worth the next weekend, which is a departure from the normal A&M schedule. Those teams almost always played in early November.

The Sooners are already a unanimous No. 1 pick for 2012 in the conference. And with no Big 12 conference championship game this fall, the Dec. 1 date is when the Big 12 will be wrapping up the regular season by going up against conference championship playoff games around the country.

The Big 12 obviously wants a strong and meaningful game on Dec. 1, one that will provide national TV impact. You knew it would be Oklahoma involved, but the other team?

Say, Gary, this looks like the Big 12 is expecting you to be a real good club.

“Well, I hope we are,” answered Gary Patterson on Tuesday, “but talk to me after spring practice. Maybe I’ll have a better idea.”

Patterson’s first look at the schedule Tuesday morning brought the initial reaction of “excitement, lots of excitement about our first year in the Big 12, with the challenge it presents, and we’ve been waiting on the schedule, and now here it is,” he said.

And, yes, there were a few double-takes, as expected.

“Back-to-back with Texas and Oklahoma at the end will get your attention,” added Patterson, “and there’s a three-game stretch in there that jumps out (at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia and hosting Kansas State).

“But everybody else also seems to have a tough three-game stretch at some point.”

So, no complaints, coach? Well, not exactly.

Patterson: “The schedule is always the schedule no matter what conference, but the first thing I look at, and every other coach does also, is what opponent has the bye week before they play you. It’s an advantage. We all like to have that advantage and don’t want the disadvantage.

“Baylor has a bye before we go back to Waco (Oct. 13) and West Virginia before we go up there (Nov. 3) has a bye. Not exactly what I preferred to see, I’ll say that, but we’ve now got the schedule, and we’ll be ready to play it.”

The Big 12 could have as many as six Top 25 nationally ranked teams going into the new season, TCU included.

Based on these early rankings — and that alone, since it’s hard to figure Baylor in the post-RG3 era, and knowing Iowa State is well-coached and capable of an upset, plus there’s no way, is there, Texas Tech could be as bad as last season — there’s a definite trend to how the Big 12 scheduled TCU.

The Frogs get Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech in the early go. Then comes a stretch run of the five remaining — at least on paper — Big 12 big boys, meaning Oklahoma State, West Virginia, K-State, Texas and Oklahoma.

Only two of those big boys are coming to Fort Worth. But the Frogs are playing the toughest on-paper teams during the heart of the season, which, again, is a projected TV-attractive compliment on what the Big 12 expects TCU to deliver.

The Oklahoma visit on Dec. 1 remains the most intriguing part of the schedule since it is “Championship Game Saturday” around the rest of the country vs. a conference that won’t have one of those.

The Big 12 could have put the Sooners up against Oklahoma State or West Virginia on that date. Instead, the conference hedged its national-TV impact games by scheduling Sooners-Frogs from Fort Worth and Texas at Kansas State, hoping one of those contests has a title on the line.

But also not to be overlooked in September are a couple of nonconference games for the Frogs. They open “New Amon” on Sept. 8 by featuring the world famous Gambling State band, which is also bringing along its football team.

The Big 12 wars start quickly with a Sept. 15 trip to Kansas, under new coach Charlie Weis, who has some work to do with that program. But the next week a revived Virginia visits New Amon, coming off a shocking 8-5 season and a bowl game. On Sept. 29, the Frogs are at SMU. After last season that is now a full-blown hate rivalry, and the best thing to happen to local college football in forever.

Yet, in the here and now, a Tuesday in February was a landmark football day at TCU.

The Frogs got the first look at their new world, and also received a butt-pat message from the Big 12 honchos:

“You get prime time. Don’t screw it up.”

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