PASADENA, Calif. — For the second straight year, TCU is unbeaten, untied — and unable to play for the national championship.
At least the Horned Frogs are getting one granddaddy of a consolation prize.
No. 3 TCU (12-0) is headed to its first Rose Bowl for a showdown with fourth-ranked Wisconsin (11-1), both schools learned Sunday night.
TCU is busting the BCS for the second straight season, following last year's loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Frogs held out hope of a title shot until Saturday, but Auburn and Oregon won their final regular-season games to stay in front.
Big Ten co-champion Wisconsin is headed back to Pasadena for the first time since the 1999 season, when Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Ron Dayne led the Badgers past Stanford on Jan. 1, 2000. Wisconsin held off fellow one-loss co-champions Ohio State and Michigan State in the BCS standings to earn another Rose Bowl berth.
TCU and Wisconsin have met just once before, playing to a 14-14 tie in 1970. Points are likely to be plentiful in a matchup of two offenses averaging 43.3 points apiece this season, with star TCU quarterback Andy Dalton attempting to outscore Wisconsin's dominant running game.
The Horned Frogs have embraced their destiny since wrapping up their perfect regular season in Albuquerque with a 66-17 thrashing of New Mexico last week. The school handed out red long-stemmed roses on the sideline while formalizing the Frogs' second straight Mountain West Conference title.
TCU is in the midst of an incredible renaissance under coach Gary Patterson, with 25 consecutive regular-season wins and 38 of 41 overall. The only losses in that span were to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, at Oklahoma and at Utah.
Yet the school is well aware of the heartbreak faced by teams outside the six BCS conferences. That's just one reason the Frogs have decided to join the system instead of fighting it by accepting admission in 2012 to the Big East, which is sending 8-4 Connecticut to the Fiesta Bowl.
TCU even faced the possibility last week of missing out on the BCS games entirely, but Boise State's loss to Nevada late last month cleared the Frogs' path to Pasadena.
For the fifth time in the past 10 years, the Rose Bowl won't feature a Big Ten team against a Pac-10 team. That hallowed intersectional tradition was tossed with the advent of the BCS, although the Rose Bowl still strives to match up teams from its favored conferences.
Many fans in Madison and California hoped Stanford could slide into Pasadena to keep alive that intersectional vibe, but TCU got the bid under a new rule requiring the Rose Bowl to pick an eligible team from a league without an automatic BCS spot once every four years if a Pac-10 or Big Ten team is in the national title game.
With Oregon headed to Glendale, Ariz., for its title shot, the Horned Frogs eagerly stepped in front of the Cardinal.
Wisconsin was the last Big Ten team to win the Rose Bowl until Ohio State knocked off the Ducks 26-17 last season, but the Badgers are back on top of the conference with a dominant season under coach Bret Bielema.
Although the Badgers lost to Michigan State on Oct. 2, they've won seven straight since, embarrassing most of their opponents while winning by an average of 26.1 points.
Wisconsin is winning much the same way it did in its last march to Pasadena 11 years ago, when the workhorse Dayne ran behind a powerful offensive line. The carries are now spread among tailbacks Montee Ball, John Clay and freshman James White, who have combined for 2,829 yards and 44 touchdowns.
Dalton will wrap up his remarkable career at the Rose Bowl after passing for 2,638 yards and 26 touchdowns with just six interceptions while completing more than 66 percent of his throws. TCU also has a 1,000-yard rusher in Ed Wesley, while the Frogs' defense has allowed just 137 points and 215.4 yards per game.
TCU accepted its historic trip to Pasadena on an already momentous day for the program: Back home in Fort Worth on Sunday morning, the west side of Amon G. Carter Stadium was imploded into a pile of rubble to clear the way for the start of a $105 million renovation.