FORT WORTH, Texas -- It's not Auburn-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State or Texas-Oklahoma. But, TCU-Utah has grown into quite a little rivalry and this season there might not be a more important game in college football.
The Frogs (9-0, 5-0 Mountain West) are ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings and the Utes (8-0, 5-0) are No. 5. The winner of Saturday afternoon's game in Salt Lake City will be in prime position not only to play in a BCS game, but to actually have a shot at the once unthinkable for non-automatic qualifiers -- the national championship game.
"That’s what we’ve been working towards, is for people to think that this is a big ballgame,"TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "Us beating Utah in overtime [in 2005] or them beating us in 2006, nobody said much about it. Now you’re in 2010 and you’re playing the same ballgame, and now one’s [No. 3] and one’s [No. 5]. We’ve come a long way as a league. We’ve come a long way as programs and what we’re trying to get accomplished. It says a lot about where we’ve been and what we’re trying to do and where we’re still trying to go."
The Frogs have their work cut out at sold-out Rice-Eccles Stadium. TCU has never won there. Two years ago, TCU doubled Utah's offensive production, yet still lost, 13-10 to ruin a shot at a BCS game. Last year in Fort Worth, the Frogs jumped out to a big lead, cruised to victory and cleared the way to a first-ever BCS appearance.
The Frogs are 0-3 in Salt Lake and quarterback Andy Dalton has played in two of those games. He knows how difficult it is to play there. Patterson began pumping loud music in at practice during offensive drills and prepping with hand signs and visuals to offset the crowd noise, aspects not often needed in most MWC venues. Close to 47,000 are expected to be at the game.
"They’re loud, noisy, obnoxious. They do a great job, especially when you’re on offense with the crowd noise and just all the stuff that goies into it," Dalton said. "I think they’re going to black out the game again. Last time we there it was at nighttime, it was all black, black uniforms, so I think they’re fans really bought into everything, which makes it a tough place to play."
Since the Frogs beat SMU 41-24 back on Sept. 24, the defense has allowed 16 points in the last five games and TCU has won by an average of 34.6 points. The Utes are coming off a 28-23 win over Air Force. The 28 points were the fewest Utah as scored since the season-opening 27-24 overtime win over then-No. 15 Pittsburgh. Since, Utah has scored at least 56 points four times.
Something's got to give. The Frogs know the Utes will use redemption for last season's blowout as a motivator, just as TCU used the 13-10 loss at Utah in 2008 heading into last year's game.
"Biggest thing is I remember the locker room after the game," Dalton said of that 2008 loss. "To see that we played pretty well and got so close and we didn’t end up winning the game; to see the guys, guys that had worked so hard, in tears, that’s a feeling that you never want to feel."