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NEW ORLEANS – If anyone deserves a last-minute ticket or two, or four, to the College Football Playoff national championship game Monday night in Inglewood, California, it’s New Orleans Saints quarterback Andy Dalton.
“I’m going to do my damndest to get there,” Dalton, a former star TCU quarterback, said last week as he was preparing for the Saints’ regular season finale against Carolina.
“I’m flying out there tomorrow,” Dalton said Sunday after the Saints fell to the Panthers, 10-7, on a 42-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro as time expired in the Louisiana Superdome
The Saints’ 7-10 season – second straight out of the playoffs after four straight appearances – was a good thing to fly away from, for sure.
“Man, if we would have made that play, if we would have made this one play, then the game would have been a whole lot different,” Dalton said. “And that’s the reason why we’re sitting here at seven and 10, not in the playoffs.”
In the four seasons Dalton played at TCU from 2007-10, the Horned Frogs lost only eight games. But then, they never made the playoffs either.
Andy Dalton Knew Winning At TCU
Dalton, a native of Katy, Texas, near Houston, led TCU to a 25-1 record in 2009 and ’10 with a pair of Mountain West Conference titles under coach Gary Patterson. He finished No. 5 in the nation in passing efficiency (166.48) in 2010 with 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns after finishing No. 8 the previous year (151.83) with 2,756 yards and 23 touchdowns.
At the time, though, college football used the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) playoff format that selected only two teams for one playoff game.
TCU finished fourth in the final BCS standings before the postseason in 2009 at 12-0 behind No. 1 Alabama (13-0), No. 2 Texas (13-0) and No. 3 Cincinnati (12-0). Alabama beat Texas for the national title. The Horned Frogs reached their first BCS bowl at the Fiesta before losing to No. 6 Boise State.
“Just for us to get to that point where we were in a BCS bowl was big,” Dalton said.
A year later, the Horned Frogs behind Dalton moved up a spot to No. 3 in the final BCS standings before the postseason in 2010 at 12-0, but were bridesmaids revisited. Auburn (13-0) and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton were No. 1 and beat No. 2 Oregon (12-0) for the national title.
TCU beat No. 4 Wisconsin, 21-19, in its first Rose Bowl for its first undefeated season (13-0) since 1938 – also the year of TCU’s last national title at 11-0.
Auburn beat Oregon to finish No. 1, and TCU finished No. 2. But – little known fact – the Horned Frogs did win the Congrove Computer Rankings national championship. Congrove was one of the rankings used in the BCS formula at the time. So, they have that, right?
TCU Came Up Short Again In 2014
Dalton, a second-round pick by Cincinnati in 2011, was in his fourth season as the Bengals’ starter in 2014, but it still hurt when TCU was not quite good enough again. The Horned Frogs (11-1) fell from No. 3 to No. 6 despite a 55-3 win over Iowa (2-10) in the final rankings for the first four-team playoff under the new College Football Playoff system.
Ohio State (12-1) jumped from No. 5 to No. 4 on the strength of a 59-0 win over No. 13 Wisconsin (10-3) in the Big Ten championship game. And Ohio State beat No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon for the national title. TCU beat No. 9 Ole Miss, 42-3, of the “powerful” SEC in the Peach Bowl to finish 12-1.
Patterson suffered losing seasons in 2016 and ’19 and was on his way to another one in 2021 at 3-5 when he was told he would not be returning for 2022 and resigned.
Finally, TCU reached the CFP final four this season under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, becoming the first Big 12 team to advance. TCU dispatched No. 2 Michigan, 52-45, last week to reach the national title game behind another great quarterback – Max Duggan.
“I think that it’s been a long journey. It really has,” Patterson said in a recent interview.
“To see where the program has gone from where it started to where it is now, it’s definitely headed in the right direction,” Dalton said.
In Dalton’s first year as a starter in 2007, the Horned Frogs went 8-5 and 4-4 in the Mountain West before an 11-2 and 7-1 season in 2008 set TCU up for its best two-year run in history in 2009 and ’10.
“I think those two seasons really set the standard of what TCU could be and allowed us to get in the Big 12,” Dalton said.
Andy Dalton’s Success Led TCU Into The Big 12
After an 11-2 season in 2011 and another Mountain West crown, TCU moved into the Big 12 in 2012.
“And once you get in the Big 12 and a Power Five conference, you’re on your way,” he said. “What we were able to accomplish at the end of my career set TCU up for this point, where we’re able to not only play in the CFP, but play for a national championship on Monday.”
That is the national championship Dalton and his teammates felt they had a right to play for in 2010 – or at least play in a semifinal to see if it could play in the final.
“I think it started with that Rose Bowl,” he said.
“Everything is different at TCU now. After my last game, they tore down the stadium and started over,” Dalton said of a $164 million reconstruction project that began after the 2010 season. “It’s a different place.”
But even if TCU wins the national championship Monday night, it will not be perfect. The Horned Frogs lost the Big 12 title game to No. 10 Kansas State, 31-28, in overtime. The 2010 team remains 13-0 – the best record in school history.
“We finished second in 2010,” Dalton said pointedly Sunday, correcting a reporter who mistakenly said the Horned Frogs finished third in the final polls. “I’m not taking anything away from our undefeated Rose Bowl season.”