The Texas Christian Horned Frogs are playing for many things Saturday night, when they meet LSU in Arlington's JerryWorld.
Redemption of quarterback Casey Pachall, who is back from rehab after being suspended from school following drug and alcohol incidents in 2012.
Validation of their new status as one of college football's haves, after decades as a have-not.
And conference pride.
The Big 12 gave TCU a seat at the big table, and if the Frogs could pull the upset and temporarily stem the SEC tidal wave of superiority, the Big 12 would consider the favor repaid in full.
The SEC's domination of college football – seven straight national championships – has become a hot-button issue. Bob Stoops famously addressed it last spring, even though his Sooners were throttled by Texas A&M 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl.
The SEC's particular stranglehold on the Big 12, primarily SEC victories in nine of the last 10 Cotton Bowls and victories in the last three SEC/Big 12 national title games, has focused a spotlight on any Big 12/SEC matchup. There are two Saturday – LSU-TCU and OSU-Mississippi State in Houston.
“The only thing that should be talked about is what happens on Saturday –- and that will be the only way we'll ever change all that,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “The only way we'll ever catch the SEC -– if that is true that we're behind them –- is you've got to play them.”
The Frogs went 7-6 in their maiden Big 12 season, but most of that was without Pachall. Now he's back, even though Patterson is playing coy and won't reveal his starter, same as LSU coach Les Miles declines to say whether troubled tailback Jeremy Hill will play.
TCU figures to have the Big 12's best defense (damning with faint praise in this league), and with an NFL-caliber quarterback, as scouts call Pachall, the Frogs seem to be conference contenders.
The SEC's status as college football's conference king won't change even with a TCU/OSU sweep Saturday. The SEC built its reputation in January, and that's where the SEC will have to lose its status.
But a TCU victory over LSU would enhance the Big 12's claim that the conferences aren't that far apart.
“That's always been the best way,” Patterson said. “We have to prove when we get the opportunity to play well or win. That's the key. Obviously, you can't have what it looked like in the Cotton Bowl, either.”