PASADENA, Calif. — When Tank Carder leaped with perfect timing and swatted Wisconsin’s final pass to the turf, the TCU linebacker felt as if he got a boost from every player at every school that never even imagined playing in the Rose Bowl.
Sure, these unbeaten Horned Frogs realized they couldn’t win the national title. They still celebrated their perfection on the hallowed Pasadena turf in the name of all the little guys outside the monolithic powers of major college football.
Andy Dalton threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score, Carder batted down a 2-point conversion pass attempt with 2 minutes to play, and third-ranked TCU hung on to beat No. 4 Wisconsin 21-19 on Saturday.
Bart Johnson caught an early TD pass and recovered a late onside kick for the Mountain West champion Horned Frogs (13-0), who followed up their second straight unbeaten regular season with their first BCS victory.
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 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.
“I’ve been saying for a while that parity in college football is here,” Patterson said. “I got texts from everybody across the nation, from Boise State and schools all over. ... Today we played for us, and for all the schools that wanted a chance.”
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, including the Badgers’ loss to one of those teams Ohio State president Gordon Gee said didn’t deserve to play for the national championship because they play opponents like “Little Sisters of the Poor.”
•Capital One Bowl
Alabama 49, Michigan State 7
ORLANDO, Fla. — Mark Ingram ran for two scores to break the Alabama career touchdown record, and the No. 15 Crimson Tide rolled past seventh-ranked Michigan State in the most lopsided Capital One Bowl in history.
The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner had 59 yards rushing against the team he rooted for as a kid.
The margin of victory topped East Texas State’s 33-0 victory over Tennessee Tech in the 1953 game, then known as the Tangerine Bowl.
Oklahoma 48, Connecticut 20
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Landry Jones threw for a school bowl-record 429 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 9 Oklahoma ended a five-game BCS bowl losing streak with a win against Connecticut..
Oklahoma (12-2) carried plenty of BCS baggage after losing three straight title games and two Fiesta Bowls. The Sooners avoided the setback six pack behind Jones and Ryan Broyles, who had team records of 13 catches and 170 yards to go with the sealing touchdown.
Florida 37, Penn State 24
TAMPA, Fla. — Urban Meyer closed out a highly successful run at Florida that included a pair of national championships by leading the Gators back from a second-half deficit to beat Joe Paterno and Penn State..
Omarius Hines and Mike Gillislee ran for touchdowns, Chas Henry kicked three second-half field goals, and Ahmad Black scored on an 80-yard interception return to help Florida (8-5) send Meyer out on a winning note.
The 46-year-old coach resigned last month because of health concerns and to spend more time with his family.
Miss. State 52, Michigan 14
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Chris Relf threw three touchdown passes, Vick Ballard ran for three scores and No. 21 Mississippi State overwhelmed Michigan.
The 38-point drubbing was the worst bowl loss in Michigan’s storied history and may have sealed the fate of Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez. His three-year tenure has been tainted by consecutive losing seasons, NCAA sanctions and late-season slides.