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The Times’ college football countdown: No. 24 Texas Christian

Texas Christian switches conferences about as often as a 6-year-old changes his mind.

TCU sometimes bolts and doesn’t bother to show up. The Horned Frogs were packed for the Big East at one point last year but backed out when a conference they could actually see from their front porch, the Big 12, made an offer.

Technically, this mark’s the Horned Frogs’ sixth conference leap since 1995. These guys are the Army brats of football, picking up when duty — or anyone, really — calls.

It’s helped that Gary Patterson has been coach 11 of those years, amassing a 109-30 record on a remarkable run that included a once-in-a-lifetime Rose Bowl victory.

Moving to a new league isn’t TCU’s problem — it’s moving up to a league that’s measurably better. The Big 12 upgrade promises to be Patterson’s biggest challenge yet. This league has teams such as Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and, now, West Virginia.

“The higher you get on the mountain, the thinner the air, the harder it is,” Patterson said at his first Big 12 media day.

TCU rode an 11-2 record last season out of the Mountain West, defeating Boise State on the blue turf to claim the conference title.

TCU returns the guts and bolts of that team, including quarterback Casey Pachall, who threw for a school-record 2,921 yards in his first year as a starter.

The Horned Frogs also return three running backs — Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker — who combined last year for 2,303 yards and 24 touchdowns.

The offensive line loses three starters while the defense, always among the nation’s best, slipped to No. 32 nationally last year.

We know TCU popped out at No. 17 in Thursday’s first coaches’ poll. TCU would have been ranked higher here, too, had the Horned Frogs been taking their talent back to the Mountain West.

But they’re not.

Utah, a former Mountain West power, found out last year that transition alone to a league such as thePac-12 automatically adds a loss or two to your docket.

Utah finished 8-5 overall and 4-5 in league play.

“Everything we’ve done to this point is great,” Patterson said. “But now the real work starts.”

The good news is the Big 12 gave TCU the first week off and backloaded the schedule.

Don’t be surprised if TCU rushes out to a 7-0 start playing Grambling, Kansas, Virginia, Southern Methodist, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech. But after that comes trouble: at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, Kansas State, at Texas and Oklahoma.

TCU is 1-28 against Texas and has lost 15 straight in Austin.

TCU, though, is in for the long haul. Its proximity to Texas talent makes the Big 12 a much better fit.

“We’ve been recruiting against the Big 12 for the last seven or eight years,” Patterson said.

The Horned Frogs, historically, know how to adjust.

This time, it just might take some time.

The countdown so far: The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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