PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Scott Tolzien #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers is sacked by linebacker Tank Carder #43 of the TCU Horned Frogs during the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
In a football backdrop that has adhered to tradition —the Rosebowl—things have been unexpected on many levels. For one, Texas Christian was not the preferred team among commissioners and more conventional sports fans. But the Horned Frogs of the Mountain West Conference proved their strength against Wisconsin and emerged the winners, leading 21-19.
TCU is the first school from a non-automatic qualifying conference to play in the Rose Bowl since the advent of the BCS, and the Frogs were right at home.
"All the critics don't feel like the non-AQ teams should have a shot," said Carder, the defensive MVP. "But I feel that TCU has proven that we can play with the best of them. Definitely taking this win back to Fort Worth ... I feel like we came in here and made a statement today."
Either Auburn or Oregon will win the national title after they meet in the BCS championship game in nine days. These ferocious Frogs still proved they can play with anybody on college football's biggest stages.
"The way the system is, it didn't give us the opportunity to play in the (title) game, but we did everything we were capable of doing," said Dalton, who passed for 219 yards. "All we could do is control what we could control. I guess it's just the way the system is, but in my time here at TCU, we never thought we would have a chance to play in the Rose Bowl, and we got that opportunity today, and got a big win."
TCU lost last year's Fiesta Bowl to Boise State by a touchdown, but that's still the only loss of the past two seasons for the improbable power built deep in the heart of football-crazy Texas by coach Gary Patterson.
The non-AQ schools improved to 5-2 in BCS bowls with the Frogs' triumph - 4-1 vs. the leagues with automatic bids. Fans can debate where TCU's win in Pasadena ranks with Boise State's thrilling one-point win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl or Utah's upset of Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, but the Frogs will always be the first back-to-back BCS busters, even after they head to the Big East in 2012.
Montee Ball rushed for 132 yards and a late score for the Big Ten co-champion Badgers (11-2), whose loss capped a nightmare New Year's Day for their conference. The Big Ten went 0-5 in bowl games Saturday, and the Badgers fell just short of a late rally when Carder made a defensive play that will live forever in TCU lore.
"Hopefully the scar that we're going to take from this game can get us back here sooner than later," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "This game wasn't decided on one play or two plays. It was probably an accumulation of about 10 or 12 plays that we failed to execute, and they did."
"We know how much this means to everybody involved," Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt said through tears. "We work 365 days for this, and then we come out here and don't execute."
Patterson stopped his players from dumping a Gatorade bucket on him before time ran out, lecturing them with a smile on his face. When the final seconds ticked off, the Frogs ran about the field in a frenzy, eventually collecting near the TCU band and the quarter of the Rose Bowl stands filled with purple-clad fans.
The Frogs eventually doused their coach, too.