End of MWC rivalry for BCS busters TCU and Utah
The biggest game of all between BCS-busting rivals TCU and Utah will be their last in the same conference.
Fittingly for the series finale, more than Mountain West supremacy is again on the line. The winner remains in contention for another Bowl Championship Series game and maybe even the national title game.
''This is what we've been working toward, is for people to think this is a big game,'' TCU coach Gary Patterson said.
A short, intense conference rivalry ends Saturday in the Mountain West's first-ever matchup of Top 10 teams. The third-ranked Horned Frogs (9-0, 5-0 MWC) play at fifth-ranked Utah (8-0, 5-0).
''Obviously, it has national implications,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''We've been in big games before so we are ready to take this on.''
Before TCU finally played in a BCS game last season, Utah had already done it twice. The Utes were the original BCS buster six years ago and the first team to do it twice.
Utah is leaving the Mountain West after this season for the new Pac-12, a league with automatic BCS access. For now, the Utes still have to earn their way into one of the five major games.
This is the third consecutive TCU-Utah game that will have a direct impact on the BCS standings.
The AP rankings for TCU and Utah match their spots in the BCS, where Boise State is between them. There remains a chance that any of those three BCS busters could climb into one of the top two spots and play for the championship.
TCU and Utah have no more games scheduled against each other after this weekend's showdown, so it looks like the end of a rivalry that has been so much fun to watch:
- TCU's first-ever Mountain West game was in 2005 against Utah, which the season before was the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to play in a BCS game. The Utes arrived in Fort Worth with an 18-game winning streak. TCU, coming off an upset loss to SMU after a season-opening victory at Oklahoma, beat the Utes 23-20 in overtime to start its own 13-game winning streak.
- After that streak was snapped a week earlier by BYU, the Frogs lost again - 20-7 to Utah in 2006.
- Before any games had even been played in 2007, the Utah-TCU game stood out as one to watch but both suffered two early MWC losses. The Utes held on for a 27-20 win.
- Two years ago, the November matchup essentially became a BCS Buster playoff game. Utah entered undefeated and TCU's only loss then was to Oklahoma. Brian Johnson threw a touchdown pass with 48 seconds left for a 13-10 victory, and the Utes went on to a 13-0 season capped by a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.
- The Frogs went into last season's game, their biggest at home in 25 years, with memories of tears in the locker room and a silent flight home from their '08 trip to Salt Lake City. TCU scored three touchdowns in a 2 1/2-minute span early in the second quarter and went on to a 55-28 rout as part of its first undefeated regular season since 1938. The Frogs got their first BCS chance in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State.
''I think people learned two years ago that just because whoever the loser of this ballgame is isn't necessarily a bad football team,'' Patterson said. ''Maybe five, six, seven, eight years ago, it was different than that.''
After losing the 2008 game in Utah, the Frogs finished the regular season with a win over Air Force, then beat Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl.
''That kind of catapulted us forward last year, to the kind of season that we had,'' Patterson said. ''And that kind of led into this season.''
When the Mountain West is the only league with two teams among the top five in the BCS standings. When one of the schools might finally get a chance to play for the national championship.
''A lot of people would like to be in this position,'' Patterson said. `We've understood the kind of team that they've had, and what kind of team they were going to have this year. So here we go.''
One more time.