Glendale, Ariz. • From a little more than a 1,000 miles away, Texas Christian coach Gary Patterson tapped out a knowing halftime text Monday night:
"Told many today it would come down to defense!"
Auburn's defense, tempered by three months of regular-season play in the Southeastern Conference, slowed Oregon's high-speed, high-yield attack, and yet another opponent couldn't come up with an answer to Cam Newton as the Tigers rolled to their 14th win in a row, 22-19.
Of course, not everybody, most notably Patterson, TCU and the nation's best defense, got a shot at Auburn and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.
TCU ended its own perfect season nine days earlier, its players and coaches relegated by fate and the Bowl Championship Series' mathematical rankings to their living rooms, lounges and other television viewing while Auburn claimed the national championship. The Horned Frogs got a trip to the Rose Bowl. There, they went toe to toe with bigger, better-pedigreed Wisconsin, held the Badgers to a field goal and a touchdown in the final 48 minutes and beat the Big Ten co-champion 21-19.
It earned them one first-place vote in the final USA Today coaches' poll.
How that defense, which allowed a nation-low 228 yards and 12 points a game, would have fared against Newton, the country's most scintillating offensive player, will remain the season's great unanswered question.
Patterson watched the title game from Dallas, where he's attending this week's national coaches' convention. Did it tug at him? "You're asking me a question I'm going to look bad on by answering the question," he said by phone afterward. "Being undefeated, we'd like an opportunity to play for a national championship. But â¦ we had a great game at the Rose Bowl. That was our national championship game."
Here in the desert, there was empathy for TCU. But few tears. "Did they have a great year?" Newton said in the days leading into Monday's BCS finale. "Yes, but I'm happy we're in this game.
"Anybody would be lying if they said, 'I'm [satisfied that] we went undefeated this season and we didn't get a chance to play for the national championship.' That's everybody's â¦ dream."
Patterson liked what he saw of Auburn, in particular a defense that came up with two interceptions in the first 10 minutes against Oregon, made one goal-line stand at the end of the second quarter and another, stopping four plays starting at the 3-yard line, late in the third.
"I kept trying to tell people all day, 'They talked about the offenses, but it was going to come down to who was going to play defense.' And really, both teams did. You've got 40 days to work on it," Patterson said. "This time of year, to win a championship, you're going to have to play defense."