Utah over Pittsburgh. Jan. ’05: Groundbreaking. Boise over Oklahoma, Jan. ’06: Instant classic Utah over Alabama, Jan. ‘09: Mind opening. TCU at Utah Nov. 6th 2010: Revolutionary.
Now, let’s not kid ourselves here. If you replace the names, ”TCU” and “Utah” with any other BCS conference school names, given the #3 and #5 rankings next to those names, and anyone can tell you this game has huge national championship implications this late in the season. Well, with TCU, and especially Utah filling those blanks, those implications might turn out to be imaginations.
But just how big is this game, really?
For the second consecutive year, ESPN’s “College Gameday” will be at the site of TCU/Utah. Both teams enter this game ranked in the top 16 for the 3rd consecutive year. And for the 3rd straight year, the winner if this game will have stamped their BCS ticket.
Last season, “College Gameday” went to Fort Worth to watch the Utes get roughed up on the road by the faster, stronger, Horned Frogs.
This year, the Utes are firing on all cylinders and looking to prove that they earned that spot in the PAC-12 next season.
The history between Utah and TCU is brief but intense.
The first time this game really meant something was in Nov. 2008. TCU came into Salt Lake City ranked #11, their sole loss coming against national champion runner up Oklahoma. Utah came into that game undefeated and ranked #10. “College Gameday” was not in attendance that weekend, although I bet they wish they had been.
TCU lead Utah from their opening 2 drives, scoring a field goal and TD, respectively, within the first few minutes. Utah crept back with a field goal in each of the first 2 quarters and went into the locker room at half down 10-6. After a scoreless 3rd quarter, TCU had 2 opportunities for “short” field goals. Anyone who loves college football or lives in MWC country knows TCU’s freshman kicker missed both FGs, gave the ball back to Utah with a few minutes left, Utes scored late to make it 13-10 Utah, and then held off Andy Dalton’s ensuing 2 minute drive to secure the win.
This year will have 2 similarly talented teams (little differences here and there), each with its own goals in mind.
Utah has the most prolific and talented bunch on offense they have seen in a long time. Did you know Alex Smith’s back up in ’04 was freshman Brian Johnson? Can you imagine how season-ending an injury to Smith would have been in that scenario? This season’s Utes are deep. Everywhere.
QB Jordan Wynn is the most efficient starting QB in pass completion in the conference at 69.1%. Oh, and our backup? Yeah, Terrance Cain is sitting at 76.6% with 6 TD and 0 INT in 2 games started. The RB core is solid with Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide III. The Utes WRs are speedy and talented and when Wynn and his receivers are in their rhythm, there’s no stopping them.
Defensive Coordinator Kalani Sitake has turned a question mark for the Utes this preseason into an exclamation mark. The Utes tout one of the best rush defenses in the nation and one of the best scoring defenses as well. Strong Safety Brian Blechen had a huge game against Air Force last week and shows signs of previous greatness at that position (Morgan Scalley, Eric Weddle, Robert Johnson to name a few).
TCU is bringing the best defense in the nation, once again, into Rice-Eccles Stadium. ’08 was a battle of top defenses and Utah scratched and clawed their way to victory. This season’s matchup will not only feature those same great defenses, but also explosive offenses.
Andy Dalton is showing why he was selected as the preseason MWC player of the year. He has led this speedy Horned Frog offense to an average of 40.8 points per game. Utah boasts 45.3.
The main difference, though, between this year and years past, respect. Sure, a 1-loss team like Alabama or Nebraska might be able to use strength of schedule to jump TCU, Utah, or Boise State, but look where it’s come from.
In the past, 1-loss teams would just stay around the top and the Utah’s and TCUs were unable to move past them, no matter how poor the victories were for the 1-lossers. Now, entering week 10, two-thirds of the way through the season, teams like Alabama do need their strength of schedule to jump a non-AQ team ranked #3, #4 and currently #5 in the nation.
Utah’s season in 2004 under Urban Meyer was revolutionary. It opened the eyes of many BCS apologists and has opened doors for others like Boise and TCU to follow. Coach Whittingham took the reins in 2005 and has continued the winning tradition.
Coach Kyle Whittingham would charge Hell itself with a bucket of water. And TCU…will be bringing Hell with them.
As college football turns its eyes toward the mountains, remember. TCU and Utah have proven that they deserve to be recognized with the big boys. This is the highest in the BCS polls that 2 non-AQ teams have ever been when playing each other.
Remember that Utah is headed for the PAC-10(12), BYU is leaving to go Independent, TCU likely will head to the Big East, and Boise State is coming to fill in those big shoes in the Mountain West Conference. All this due to success on the national stage. What will their next excuses be to dismiss this group when the “easy” teams on our conference schedule…are them?
We fought the naysayers, we fought their rules and their champions, and we’ll fight for dear old Crimson for…a Utah man am I. Go Utes.