FORT WORTH, Texas – TCU knew its schedule was going to get more difficult by moving to the Big 12.
Coach Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs are finding out just how much, though they have already obtained bowl eligibility in their inaugural season in a BCS league.
"This part of our season is our Custer section. Going over the hill," Patterson said, referring to the closing three-game stretch that starts Saturday night at home against No. 3 Kansas State, his alma mater. "We all knew the schedule, what these last three were like before we started. ... I'm glad we got to six (wins) before we got to these three."
Led by Heisman Trophy front-running quarterback Collin Klein, the Wildcats (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) are in the thick of the national championship chase. They're No. 2 in the BCS rankings behind only defending champion Alabama.
Kansas State is the highest AP-ranked team to visit Fort Worth since 1970, when No. 2 Texas won 58-0 in a Southwest Conference game. TCU last hosted a Top 10 team in 1993, and have lost their last 12 such games at home since a victory over No. 9 Texas A&M in 1965.
"It's a big game. It will be pretty easy for everyone to get ready," said TCU right guard Blaize Foltz, who is from Kansas. "I know people on that team. I know they're just as excited to come down here and play us, and just as fired up."
After Kansas State, the Frogs play Thanksgiving night at 19th-ranked Texas and finish the regular season at home Dec. 1 against No. 14 Oklahoma.
With a win against TCU, the Wildcats would still be in pursuit of their first BCS national championship game appearance. Regardless of what happens, they will still control their Big 12 fate. They go to Baylor next, then have Thanksgiving week off before their regular season finale at home against Texas.
Klein sustained an apparent head injury in the third quarter of last Saturday's 44-30 victory against Oklahoma State. He didn't take another snap after scoring his 50th career rushing touchdown, but should be back in the lineup against the Frogs.
"Would I expect him to play? I certainly hope that's the case, and I would expect that to take place," said coach Bill Snyder, who as usual offered very little information about injuries.
The next step toward a potential championship game for the Wildcats is getting to 10-0 for the first time since 1998. Snyder's team started 11-0 that year before falling to Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game. There is no more league championship game because the Big 12 has a round-robin schedule.
Kansas State is the nation's least-penalized team (only 31 flags), and has a plus-20 turnover margin that is the best. The Wildcats have lost only two fumbles and Klein has thrown only two interceptions while passing for 1,875 yards with 12 touchdowns and running for 698 yards and 17 scores.
While opponents haven't scored any points after K-State's miscues, the Wildcats have scored an incredible 111 points off turnovers.
"Someone brought that to my attention, and I shared it with our players as well," Snyder said. "But I have never heard a statistic like that because I do not think anybody has ever kept a statistic like that. Whoever came up with it has done some amazing research."
Taking that a step further, those 111 points account for more than one-fourth of the 399 points K-State has scored this season.
For Patterson, his first meeting against his alma mater presents quite of a dilemma.
It comes three decades after he started his coaching career as a K-State graduate assistant in 1982 for then-coach Jim Dickey and was part of the school's first bowl team. He had played for the Wildcats the previous two seasons, when the safety and linebacker played mostly on scout teams and only a little on special teams.
"It's hard, because you love seeing, from their perspective, they've come so far and have an opportunity to be so close to playing for a national championship," said Patterson, TCU's winningest coach with 115 victories in his 12 seasons. "But also on our side of it, just try to get seven (wins)."
TCU got the sixth win needed for bowl eligibility last week with a 39-38 double-overtime victory at West Virginia, the Big 12's other newcomer. The Horned Frogs opted for a win-or-lose 2-point conversion attempt in the second overtime. They obviously made it.
"Now it's about survival," Patterson said. "How you get finished, get things done."