TCU would of course prefer to be heading to a third consecutive BCS game, but there's no time to dwell on that with Western Athletic Conference champ Louisiana Tech looking to cap off its season with an eighth straight victory.
Making their seventh consecutive bowl appearance and last before joining the Big 12 on July 1, the No. 16 Horned Frogs make their third Poinsettia Bowl appearance Wednesday when they face the Bulldogs for the first time.
A 50-48 season-opening defeat at Baylor and a 40-33 loss to SMU on Oct. 1 dropped TCU (10-2) out of the Top 25 and doubled their loss total from the previous two years combined. The Horned Frogs were 12-0 in 2009 before losing to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, and they completed a 13-0 season last year with a 21-19 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
TCU was seemingly out of contention for a big-money bowl in 2011, but seven consecutive wins -- including a 36-35 victory at then-No. 5 Boise State on Nov. 12 -- brought it back into the BCS conversation.
However, for a team from a non-qualifying conference to earn an at-large BCS bid, it must win its conference, finish ahead of one conference champion from an automatic-qualifying league and be ranked at least 16th in the final BCS poll. The Frogs won the Mountain West and finished ahead of West Virginia from the Big East, but had a final BCS ranking of 18th.
"There's nobody to blame (we didn't get a BCS berth) but TCU because we had two losses," said coach Gary Patterson, one win shy of tying Dutch Meyer as the program's all-time leader with 108. "If we had one loss, we probably wouldn't be in this situation.
"Now we need to go win a ballgame against Louisiana Tech. They're a good football team and they will be fired up since it's been a while since they've been to a bowl game."
The Bulldogs (8-4) make their sixth bowl appearance, their last coming in 2008 when they defeated Northern Illinois in the Independence Bowl. Louisiana Tech arrives in San Diego on the heels of winning its first conference title since 2001.
The team is on its best run since an eight-game winning streak Sept. 11-Nov. 13, 1999. Three of its losses have been by six or fewer points.
"I know it's good to win seven straight and it feels good but I'm not super surprised," wide receiver Taulib Ikharo said.
Neither is Patterson.
"We have a lot of respect for Louisiana Tech and coach Sonny Dykes," he said. "They're conference champions and have had an outstanding season with some very impressive wins. They've gone on the road and beat an SEC team (27-7 over Mississippi on Nov. 12). They are very skilled on both sides of the ball."
The Bulldogs are averaging 30.6 points and 397.5 yards -- both in the top 50 in the FBS -- and have been even better since redshirt junior quarterback Colby Cameron took over for injured freshman Nick Isham five games ago. Louisiana Tech is scoring 34.8 per contest with 445.6 yards with Cameron starting.
Cameron has thrown for 1,403 yards with 11 TDs and two INTs, and he's confident he'll be able to connect with Ikharo and first-team all-WAC wide receiver Quinton Patton (1,135 yards, 10 TDs).
"Knowing (offensive coordinator) coach (Tony) Franklin, he will have an excellent game plan and I think we will be able to execute it against a great defense," Cameron said.
While the Frogs are well off last season's pace when they led the FBS in total defense at 228.5 yards per game and scoring defense at 12.0 points, they're still a force. TCU is holding opponents to 346.3 yards per contest -- 32nd in the nation -- and an average of 21.3 points, 30th in the FBS.
The anchor of that unit, senior linebacker Tank Carder, will play his final college game after being named the conference defensive player of the year for the second consecutive season. He has 66 tackles with two interceptions -- both returned for scores.
"I actually saw him last year when TCU played in the Rose Bowl," Cameron said. "It's funny but it's great to know that you're up against a great defensive player."
TCU sophomore quarterback Casey Pachall could face his share of those as he makes his bowl debut.
WAC defensive player of the year Adrien Cole leads the Bulldogs with 121 tackles, including a team-best 12 for loss, while Christian Lacey is tied with TCU end Stansly Maponga with 8 1/2 sacks.
Louisiana Tech is third in the nation with 20 INTs, while Pachall has thrown only six picks to go with his 24 TDs. He's helped the Horned Frogs average 41.7 points -- ninth in the FBS.
Pachall, though, will not be working with Justin Fuente in San Diego after the Frogs' former co-offensive coordinator was named Memphis coach Dec. 7. Co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Jarrett Anderson will likely handle Fuente's duties.
TCU is averaging 210.2 yards on the ground, while Louisiana Tech is allowing 122.2 per contest.
Special teams could also play a major role in who leaves Qualcomm Stadium with a victory. TCU senior Greg McCoy is fourth in the country in kickoff return average at 31.6 yards, while Louisiana Tech punter Ryan Allen, the Ray Guy Award winner, leads the nation with 36 punts inside the 20-yard line.
TCU defeated then-unbeaten Boise State 17-16 in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, two years after making its debut in the game with a 37-7 victory over Northern Illinois.
After accepting its bid before Thanksgiving, Louisiana Tech had to wait a while to see who its opponent would be as the MWC sorted itself out. TCU, which ran the Mountain West table, enters the game after failing to reach the minimum requirements for a BCS bowl game for a non-AQ champion. The matchup to watch is Tech's rush defense, which allows 122.1 yards on the ground per game, versus the three-headed rushing attack of Waymon James, Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley.
In the previous 6 seasons, TCU has played in a bowl each season including 2 Poinsettia Bowls and a Rose Bowl. The Horned Frogs have played better in "plant" bowls than in "non-plant" bowls, going 3-0 and doubling up their opponents on the scoreboard. Wednesday they play in another Poinsettia Bowl against Louisiana Tech.