Chris Dufresne’s college football top 25: TCU is No. 5

The Times’ Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

No. 5 Texas Christian

Gary Patterson says he’s not worried about his tiny private-school team competing with in-state giants Texas and Texas A&M.

Patterson compares his program’s rise to the cola wars.

“Only older people would understand,” he told The Times before last season’s Fiesta Bowl. “It’s the old thing about 7-Up. They tried to climb the cola ladder, but they were always going to be third. So they went down and climbed the uncola ladder and became No. 1. That’s what we’re trying to be. We’re trying to be the other guy in the state of Texas.”

It’s working. While Texas will always be Texas, and Texas A&M will always keep chasing Texas, TCU has carved out an incredible niche in Fort Worth.

Patterson, who took over in 2000, has won 10 or more games six times in the last nine years.

Last year the team posted the first undefeated regular season since the national title team of 1938, led by quarterback Davey O’Brien.

The talk before last season’s Fiesta Bowl between Boise State and Texas Christian was that the winner was going to be well preseason-positioned for a national title run in 2010.

Actually, so was the game’s loser, as both teams would be returning toad-loads of talent.

Boise State prevailed in a close-fought Fiesta Bowl, 17-10, and has rightfully received a lot of preseason attention, debuting at No. 5 in the USA Today coaches’ poll and No. 3 in the Associated Press.

TCU, though, isn’t lagging far behind at No. 7 and No. 5.

The Horned Frogs get their first chance to state their case as they open against Oregon State on Sept. 4, two days before Boise State plays Virginia Tech in Landover, Md.

Boise State returns its entire offense, and 10 of 11 on defense, with TCU returning nine on offense and seven on defense.

Both schools are in a position to make a run to the BCS title game if schools from the big-boy conferences slip up.

You could argue Boise State has the more difficult road to being undefeated because it plays Virginia Tech and Oregon State in nonconference games.

Patterson is sitting where Boise State Coach Chris Petersen wishes he were — just a little bit under the radar.

Texas Christian has everything it takes to win the Mountain West again this season, starting with returning quarterback Andy Dalton. He’s coming off a shaky performance in the Fiesta Bowl loss but last season completed 61% of his passes with 23 touchdowns and had only eight passes intercepted.

The Horned Frogs’ top five running backs are freshmen or sophomores, with sophomores Matthew Tucker (676 yards) and Ed Wesley (638) leading the way. The team returns its top three receivers and four of five offensive linemen.

The Horned Frogs were No. 1 nationally last year in total defense and must replace All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes, and two starting cornerbacks, but there’s no reason to think this unit won’t again be dominant.

TCU also brings back Jeremy Kerley, one of the nation’s top kick-return specialists.

The key dates are the Sept. 4 opener against Oregon State at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Sept. 24 at rival Southern Methodist and Nov. 6 at Utah.

A second straight undefeated season would not be a surprise. The question is whether it will be enough to earn TCU a return trip to Arizona for the Jan. 10 title game.

The countdown so far: 25. Washington; 24. Navy; 23. Utah; 22. Houston; 21. Pittsburgh; 20. USC; 19. Stanford; 18. Auburn; 17. Arkansas; 16. Oregon State; 15. Florida State; 14. Georgia Tech; 13. Wisconsin; 12. Oklahoma; 11. Miami; 10. Iowa; 9. Oregon; 8. Texas; 7. Virginia Tech; 6. Florida; 5. Texas Christian.