TCU has jumped to new heights for BCS outsiders

BY foxsports • November 11, 2009

And now that TCU has passed Boise State in the race to become this season's BCS buster, the Frogs and their fans have something much bigger to ponder.

TCU (9-0, 5-0 Mountain West) is fourth in the BCS standings, the highest a team from a conference without an automatic bid has reached. So the new question is: Can the Horned Frogs play in the national championship game?

"I don't know what has changed peoples' minds," defensive end Jerry Hughes said Tuesday. "Apparently from last week to this week, they just like us more."

TCU was eighth when the first BCS standings came out just more than three weeks ago, a day after the Frogs beat Colorado State 44-6. They moved up two spots the next week after winning 38-7 at BYU, and have peaked since beating UNLV 41-0 and winning 55-12 at San Diego State last weekend.

"I think the way we've won games, that's really made a statement about our team," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "I'm sure that's why we've maybe got that attention. ... But you can't focus on it, because none of it matters if we lose a game."

TCU, which at No. 4 in The Associated Press poll has matched its highest ranking since 1956, has its biggest game of the season Saturday night at home against No. 16 Utah (8-1, 5-0). The game is already a sellout, the first at 44,358-seat Amon Carter Stadium since a 2006 game against Big 12 foe Texas Tech.

Boise State (9-0) was fourth in the initial BCS standings and dropped to seventh in the second release when TCU passed the Broncos, who are now sixth.

Utah likely is the most significant hurdle left between the Frogs and their first undefeated regular season since the 1938 national championship team. Their last two games are at Wyoming (4-5) and home against New Mexico (0-9).

Since a 23-20 overtime victory over Utah in 2005 that snapped the Utes' 18-game winning streak, TCU hasn't won in the series. That included last year's 13-10 heartbreaker that clinched the Mountain West title for Utah, which went on to complete its undefeated season by beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The Horned Frogs' 11-game winning streak is third only to Florida (19) and Texas (13), which along with Alabama are the only teams ahead of them in the polls.

But TCU has gotten on quite a roll in the past month, outscoring its opponents 178-25 in the last four games after opening Mountain West play with a 20-17 victory on a bitterly cold night at Air Force.

After some slow starts offensively, including Colorado State when the Rams had two field goals before TCU finally got a first down on the final play of the first quarter, Dalton and Co. have provided at least a two-touchdown lead within the first 16 1/2 minutes of the last three games.

That's more than enough for one of the best defenses in the country, which allowed only two touchdowns total the past four games.

"That's one of the things we've focused on, to come out, start fast, score points early and give our defense an opportunity to play with a lead," said Dalton, the junior and third-year starter whose 26 victories as TCU's quarterback are surpassed only by Sammy Baugh's 29 (1934-36). "They've played pretty well."

TCU is third in total defense, allowing only 241 yards per game - bettered by only Texas and Florida - and fifth in scoring defense, giving up only 11 points a game.

That combination of a suddenly fast-starting offense and stingy defense has put TCU in position to think about possibly doing more than just busting into the BCS - though coach Gary Patterson has got his players thinking like he does.

"The BCS, it is what it is. We can't control any of that, so that's not something we're focused on," Dalton said.

"There's a lot of talk going on. We appreciate the talk," said Hughes, who has nine sacks after leading the country with 15 last season. "At the same time, we've just got to focus and take on Utah."

Or, they know, the talk will quickly end.