November 6, 2010

TCU states case as best of non-power conferences

SALT LAKE CITY -- Sorry, Boise State, but this makes it official. TCU is the best non-Big Six team in the nation.

If there were any doubters, Saturday's emphatic 47-7 demolition of Utah sent a message loud and clear.

"I think everyone understands what kind of team Utah has, and for us to do it the way we did it today says a lot about what we've done as a program and what we do," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "We wanted to be peaking at the end of the year and I think we have an opportunity to do that."

And then some. This Horned Frogs team may be the ultimate BCS-buster in that it is capable of becoming the first school from a non-automatic qualifying conference to play for the national title. After Saturday's display, it's easy to think TCU could play with any team in the nation.

"TCU thoroughly outplayed us, and it was not even close," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The score was not indicative of how lopsided this game was. They were better at every phase of the game."

Wouldn't it be fun to see TCU play, say, Oregon for all the marbles on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz? The nation's best offense vs. the nation's best defense. Patterson's visor vs. Chip Kelly's visor.

The chances of it happening increased with Alabama's loss at LSU. The defeat eliminates the Crimson Tide from the BCS title-game picture, leaving No. 1 Oregon or No. 2 Auburn between TCU and a spot in the championship game.

"We'll see," Patterson said. "We'll see if we can win the next two games, and then we'll have a conversation."

TCU plays host to San Diego State next week, followed by an off week, then a season-ending trip to woeful New Mexico. Taking care of business won't be the issue for the Horned Frogs; they need help from others, and that may prove too difficult to overcome.

An Oregon loss would punch TCU's ticket to the title game, and the Ducks have potential hurdles remaining with a visit from Arizona and a game at Oregon State. But the Frogs' best hope rests with a loss by Auburn and its iffy defense. Alabama still can have a big impact on the chase if it can beat Auburn in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 26. If the Tigers pass that test, they will have a SEC title game matchup against either South Carolina or Florida.

If it doesn't land a trip to the national title game, TCU figures to get a nice consolation prize in a trip to the Rose Bowl. Under terms of the most recent BCS agreement, the first time the Rose Bowl loses a team to the national championship game (which would be the case if Oregon wins out) and a team from outside the Big Six conferences is an automatic qualifier, that team will play in the Rose Bowl.

Still, the Horned Frogs want so much more.

"This year, we scheduled Oregon State to get us ready for the conference, to give ourselves a national game as far as a measuring stick, and then Baylor," Patterson said. "So, we understood what we had to do."

Boise State is a near-lock to finish 12-0 and figures to secure an at-large BCS bowl bid. But the Broncos can forget about playing for the BCS title. The BCS standings reflected TCU's superiority last week, as the Frogs slipped past BSU to the No. 3 spot; Boise fell to No. 4.

When comparing the resumes, it's easy to see why TCU is judged to be the better team.

The Horned Frogs play in a better conference (Mountain West vs. WAC).

The Horned Frogs have three impressive wins (Oregon State, Baylor, Utah) compared to two for Boise State (Virginia Tech, Oregon State). Yes, the Broncos have a game remaining on the road against a ranked Nevada team, but that won't impress pollsters or the BCS computers enough to push past TCU.

TCU's total domination of the No. 5 BCS team was the closing argument.

"We were out-coached and out-played," Whittingham said. "Gary Patterson has something special there, and they are an exceptionally high-quality football team."

This game looked similar to last season's meeting in Fort Worth, when the Horned Frogs raced to a 35-7 second-quarter lead and never faltered en route to a 55-28 victory.

Saturday, three of TCU's scoring drives took one play and Utah didn't cross midfield until the fourth quarter. The only bad thing for TCU was a missed extra point in the first quarter.

TCU senior quarterback Andy Dalton was 21-of-26 for a career-high 355 yards and three touchdowns. The Horned Frogs finished with 558 yards.

It's too bad more of the nation couldn't witness TCU's muscle and might. This matchup between top-five teams was broadcast on CBS College Sports. Regardless, this result will reverberate coast to coast.

"They smoked us in every phase," Utah defensive end Christian Cox said. "It is disheartening and frustrating."

TCU entered the game ranked first in the nation in total defense (217.3 ypg) and scoring defense (8.7 ppg), and it lived up to those numbers. The Frogs allowed 199 total yards to a Utah team that entered the game ranked 21st in total offense (449.6 ypg) and third in scoring offense (45.3 ppg).

TCU now has allowed 23 points in its past six games. The loss snapped Utah's 21-game home winning streak, and the 40-point margin is tied for the fourth-largest home defeat in Utes history.

"We flat-out got beat," Utah center Zane Taylor said. "They are a great team."

Utah, whose BCS bowl dreams have morphed into the cold, hard reality of a likely trip to the Las Vegas Bowl, shouldn't feel too bad. The Utes just happened to be the unfortunate souls standing on the sideline opposite this TCU buzz saw.

If it's any consolation, Utah won't have to deal with TCU again, as the Utes move to the Pac-10 next season. Utah won't see a defense like this next season in its new conference. But it makes you wonder: Shouldn't TCU be the school joining the Pac-10?

It's too bad TCU has to continue to toil in the Mountain West, a conference the Horned Frogs have outgrown. TCU looks, smells and plays like a major-conference team because that's what the Horned Frogs are. They are a Big Six team masquerading as a non-Big Six team.

There have been recent reports of the Big East wooing TCU, but that seems like a bad fit. TCU deserves better company and could compete in any conference in the nation - yes, even the SEC. In fact, this edition of the Horned Frogs would be the best team in the SEC East. With the right breaks, TCU may get a chance to prove it's the best in the nation.

"The bottom line is they've put themselves on a different plateau, but they have to finish the season," Patterson said of his players. "We only can control what we can control, but I thought we made a statement today."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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