SALT LAKE CITY -- That was more than a statement. That was utter domination, a run-up-to-the-Utah-mountaintops-and-shout-it-through-megaphones moment TCU needed in this wild college football season.
The Horned Frogs belong.
You want great defense? How about holding an opponent to under 200 yards of total offense for the fifth time in six conference games.
You want great offense? How about rolling up 500 total yards for the third straight game and fifth time this season.
You want proof that TCU belongs in the national championship conversation? Well, you got it on Saturday. No. 3 TCU completely owned No. 5 Utah 47-7 in a game the Horned Frogs needed badly for themselves, and for non-AQ teams everywhere.
What more do the Horned Frogs have to do to get themselves into a national title game? What more do they need to do to convince people that they deserve a shot?
TCU coach Gary Patterson reminded everyone they still have two games left. Right.
But after that? What happens after that?
“Based off today, hopefully across the nation they know TCU can play football,” receiver Jeremy Kerley said.
Patterson is no dummy. He knows what’s at stake here, having already told his team it has a chance to make history.
“The bottom line is in history, very few times do you get a chance to be a part of something that makes a difference,” Patterson said. “I knew if we could come in here and win and go ahead and win the conference, it would give us an opportunity to do that, and that was the kind of statement it ended up being today. Hopefully people around the country got a chance to watch that and agree with us.”
Yet he was hesitant when it came to national championship talk. Pressed on multiple occasions for his thoughts on where his team belongs, he said, “You guys aren’t going to get me to say that we deserve to play for a national championship. I’m going to go do what I need to do.”
His players were hesitant, too. Andy Dalton was asked whether his team was one of the two best in the country. “I’m not going to go there, but I feel we can play with anybody,” he said.
And yet this is a system that has flaws, that has never allowed an undefeated team from outside the power conferences a spot in the BCS title game. Now TCU and Boise State have a chance to go undefeated and miss out for the second straight season.
“I can’t call it flawed until I see how it ends up,” Patterson said. “We’ve got two more games to play. If we can win those two and be 12-0, then we’ll find out how it all is. We’ve done all we can do.”
But is that enough? Already, critics have downgraded the win, saying Utah was not really good at all. They point to the fact that Utah’s best win was against Iowa State. Its second best win was against Pittsburgh.
Still, Utah was undefeated and had one of the top-rated defenses in the country and rode a 21-game home winning streak into the game. Is it enough that a Utah assistant coach came up to Patterson afterward and thanked him for not running up 100 on his team?
Is it enough that Utah athletic director Chris Hill came to shake Patterson’s hand and told him to go win the rest of them?
The way TCU played on Saturday, you have to believe the Horned Frogs would give Auburn and Oregon all they could handle. Dalton proved that when he is on, he is incredibly hard to stop, passing for a career-high 355 yards and three touchdowns. TCU came out throwing early to negate the Utah defensive front.
It worked. Combine that with another typical TCU defensive performance and the Horned Frogs are perhaps playing better than they were last year. Utah did not cross the 50 until early in the fourth quarter. The Utes had four turnovers, and Jordan Wynn was completely rattled, going 16-of-35 for 148 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
TCU has now outscored its conference opponents 236-23 and is 10-0 for the third time in the past eight seasons.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, “The score was not indicative of how lopsided this game was. Gary Patterson has something special there, and they are an exceptionally high-quality football team.”
Now the question is whether Patterson is going to have to go stumping for his team, bringing up its merits over Boise State. The Broncos had a convincing win of their own on Saturday, and many people still remember their Fiesta Bowl win over the Horned Frogs.
With two non-AQ teams jockeying for position with Auburn and Oregon, somebody asked Patterson whether he will have to do some politicking.
“People understand that’s not my way,” Patterson said. “I’ll be honest with you -- there will be others that do it for me.”