FORT WORTH, Texas — Bring on any opponent for TCU. The undefeated Horned Frogs are going to bust into the BCS for the first time. The only question left is where are they headed and who will they play.
"We can play with anybody," coach Gary Patterson said after TCU wrapped its first undefeated regular season in 71 years. "We're going to look forward to the challenge, we'll find out what that's going to be and we're going to get ready for it. … This team can play with a lot of people, and not just this year."
Hard to argue after the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs improved to 12-0 with a 51-10 victory over New Mexico on Saturday — their seventh straight win by at least 27 points, a stretch including BYU and Utah, last year's BCS buster.
While there should be no question about if TCU (12-0, 8-0 Mountain West Conference) will be part of the Bowl Championship Series, the Frogs have to wait another week to make travel plans.
Representatives from the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls were in attendance.
"They're sure way up there," said Alan Young, the Fiesta Bowl board chairman. "It's an easy sell to our board of directors. … TCU is right in the middle of our mix."
After some near-misses in the past, including a 10-0 start in 2003 and a one-loss season two years after that, TCU is higher in the BCS standings than any team from a conference without an automatic bid has ever been this late in the season. The Frogs are fourth behind Florida, Alabama and Texas.
"Well, we finally did it," Patterson said to open his postgame news conference.
Andy Dalton matched a career-high with four touchdown passes, two to Antoine Hicks in a 12-second span that put the Horned Frogs up 30-0 early in the second quarter. Dalton had already run for a score.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, fans chanted "B-C-S! B-C-S!" They then stormed the field to celebrate, creating a sea of purple around a riser in the middle of the field where a celebratory cooler shower-drenched Patterson accepted the Mountain West Conference championship trophy.
By clinching the outright Mountain West title, TCU has only the two upper boxes of its pyramid of goals still not colored in purple. The Frogs are certain to play in a BCS game, though the teams ahead of them will have to slip up for a chance at their loftiest goal: No. 1, national champions. Florida and Alabama do have to play each other in the SEC championship game next week, and Texas meets Nebraska in the Big 12 title game.
"Of course, we're going to root for the upset and all of that," Dalton said. "Now that we've done everything that we can do, there's that relief. "
Dalton, a junior and third-year starter, was 15-of-24 for 228 yards while earning his 29th career victory, matching the school record set by "Slingin' Sammy" Baugh (1934-36). Dalton pushed his career TD passing total to 43, three more than Baugh and six shy of Max Knake's school record.
TCU has a 14-game winning streak, matching the school record set by the 1938 team led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Davey O'Brien that went 11-0 and clinched the team's only AP national championship. The school also claims a national title in 1935, the only other time the Frogs won 12 games.
"I have bubble guts, like this spot I'm feeling good, so overwhelmed by the excitement," linebacker Daryl Washington said, trying to explain how he felt.
Dalton's 8-yard keeper put TCU up 9-0. Then he threw touchdown passes the next three possessions, all in a span of 2 1/2 minutes.
Hicks made a 20-yard touchdown catch immediately after New Mexico (1-11, 1-7) fumbled the kickoff following his 62-yard score when Dalton hit him in stride near the 30.
Bart Johnson had a 17-yard touchdown catch before New Mexico went three-and-out and Hicks scored on consecutive passes. Johnson added a 24-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter before the Frogs returned two interceptions for scores in 2:20 — Washington taking one 20 yards and Rafael Priest going 47 yards.
Hicks, who finished with five catches for 123 yards, has scored 10 touchdowns on 26 touches this season (six TDs on 19 catches and four TDs on seven rushing attempts).
New Mexico, which wrapped up its first season under coach Mike Locksley a week after getting its only victory, scored all of its points in a span of 72 seconds late in the first half and finished with only 172 yards on 74 plays.
"Yeah, we're a long ways away from that team," Locksley said. "They came ready to play and they showed why they're conference champions."