National spotlight on TCU, Utah

The scene in the locker room has stayed with TCU quarterback Andy Dalton.

The bitter disappointment, the tears streaming down the faces of his teammates, the emotion spent after losing in the closing seconds to Utah. The players who experienced that 13-10 defeat in 2008 vowed it would never happen again.

So this is their time now, to go to Salt Lake City and do something no TCU team has done before: win at Rice-Eccles Stadium. No. 3 TCU (9-0, 5-0) needs to beat No. 5 Utah (8-0, 5-0) not only to keep its Mountain West Conference hopes alive, but its slim BCS championship hopes alive as well.

The national spotlight is on them.

“The atmosphere in the locker room after the game, you see guys work so hard and to come so close and not win the ballgame was tough for everyone,” Dalton said. “It was such an emotional game. We’ve never won in Salt Lake City, so to go up there and get a win would be huge for us.”

TCU has not lost a regular-season game since allowing Utah to score with 48 seconds left to win back in 2008. The Horned Frogs have gone on quite a tear, completing a perfect regular season last year to get their first BCS bid. Here they are, undefeated again, facing their nemesis.

How fitting that the stakes are so high in the final scheduled meeting for the two schools. Utah is leaving for the Pac-12 next season, and would love nothing more than to leave with a championship.

“Each and every year we want to come out and win the Mountain West Conference, but seeing as how this is our last year, we want to have a good farewell tour and show everybody the team we really are,” Utah linebacker Chaz Walker said.

This is the perfect statement game for both teams, to show that nonautomatic-qualifying-conference squads deserve to be in contention for championships. It's a perfect showcase for Utah to show why it is going to be just fine in the Pac-12; perfect for TCU to show just why it has been so good for the last several years.

“This is real big,” Utah cornerback Lamar Chapman said. “The national exposure is always good. We just want to go out there and play and prove to the nation that we can get it done.”

There is plenty of hoopla surrounding this game. "College GameDay" will be in Salt Lake City, and reporters from around the country are descending on Utah to watch. This is the first Mountain West game between two teams ranked in the top 5. It also features the two highest-ranked teams to play against each other this year.

The winner of this game the last two years has gone on to get a BCS bid. Utah used that win over TCU to finish up undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. TCU won handily last season and made its first BCS game appearance, losing to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

But this season has proved to be quite the exception for the non-AQs. Playing for a BCS national championship is something people are talking about this late in the year for the first time, because it is at least a possibility.

Neither coach wants to talk much about those possibilities and they probably spent the week trying to limit the distractions that big games often cause.

“We understand what’s in front of us,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “We know we don’t have to think outside those boxes and all the implications that go along with them. Right now we have to be focused on what we need to get accomplished.”

Tops on that list: beating Utah in Salt Lake City for the first time.