Marcus Cannon, Andy Dalton, Wayne Daniels, Cory Grant and Jake Kirkpatrick are all Texas natives that were all part of the wreckage left by the Big 12 schools so others could pick over at their leisure. Their scholarship resumes suggested they belonged in the land of misfit toys, not a BCS conference where the bigger, stronger, speedier athletes resided.
One way or another, the group ended up at TCU, the tiny private school located west of Dallas in Fort Worth, and recognized that while other schools have talent, winning doesn't come from talent alone.
So instead of playing like individuals, the group follows their pyramid of success. Listed in the team meeting room, the pyramid lists all the goals the Horned Frogs want to obtain. The top layer is winning a national championship, seemingly unobtainable for a non BCS school in this day and age, but the bottom layer was the foundation of what all winning teams strive to achieve – bonding in camp, good preparation and staying unselfish.
"All that stuff that goes on in camp is at the bottom and it helps us work all the way up," Kirkpatrick said. "It would mean a lot for us to come back one day and to see everything colored in."
The Horned Frogs have colored in more layers than most non-AQ schools when it comes to the BCS. TCU has won 35 games over the past three years and is the first school from a non-automatic BCS conference to play in a BCS game in back-to-back seasons, a mark they achieved by rising to third in the polls and qualifying for the Rose Bowl.
Yet, the critics still remain. The Horned Frogs beat one team currently in the top 25 and the six teams that made a bowl game on their schedule went 2-4.
When given the national stage last season against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, TCU unleashed a 17-14 stinker that did nothing to credit them or give weight to the argument that non BCS schools deserve a chance to play for a national title.
"After something bad happens, you never want it to happen again," Cannon said of last year's bowl disappointment. "Last year's memories are lingering in our head still. That's what helps push us forward and persevere this time. Every hard practice, we're thinking about last year."
The results have shown on both sides of the ball. TCU's offense averages 43.3 points per game (tied for fourth nationally with Wisconsin) and was led by hardly-recruited Andy Dalton, who played well enough to earn four first-place votes for the Heisman Trophy. TCU balanced that with a defense led by Daniels and Grant that suffocated opponents all season long both through the air and on the ground.
"We have a saying that we hunt together," Grant said. "Not one person shouldn't be running to the ball when the ball is running past the line of scrimmage."
Every leap has a springboard and in TCU's case, it was three years ago when team inexperienced was prevalent and the fan support was absent.
Daniels was one of the players that received little interest from the Big 12 schools and manage to scrape together a few offers before picking TCU. His second season was only an eight-win campaign and the stands were usually only half full in the 46,000 seat stadium.
A lot like the '08 season was for their Rose Bowl opponent Wisconsin, that ‘07 season was a building point for the unheralded Texas seniors.
"I never thought we'd play in the Rose Bowl," Daniels said, "but the year before that, we started putting it together, and like there was a huge jump in the way our team acted together and the way we played together."
Carrying the non-AQ banner for the last two seasons won't be a banner after the 2011 football season, as TCU will officially move to the Big East conference starting in 2012, giving the Horned Frogs a chance to play for an automatic bid each season instead of having to walk on egg shells through a highly-criticized schedule.
"We have had that tag just because of the conference that we're in (and) I think we've made the most of it," Dalton said. "That's all we can do. All we have sought out to do is control what we can control (and) not worry about any of the other stuff. I think what we've the past two years had shown people we may be in a non-AQ conference, but we're still playing good football."
With the Horned Frogs being the only undefeated school left out of the BCS Championship game, TCU is eyeing next year's title game by doing the only thing a non-AQ can – beat every opponent on its schedule with a chip on its shoulder.