TCU Horned Frogs @ Utah Utes
3:30 PM ET Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
Laying the scene
On the Mike and Mike show on ESPN Radio Wednesday, ESPN's BCS expert Brad Edwards commented that of the three non-AQ schools currently in the top five of the BCS rankings-TCU, Boise State and Utah-he believes the Horned Frogs has the best chance of going to the national championship at the end of the year. Not exactly Earth-shattering stuff considering they're currently the highest ranked of the three schools, but with so much attention given to Boise State in the first half of the season, this is the first week in which there's been widespread discussion about the Horned Frogs finding their way to the national championship game.
Their biggest obstacles at this point are a) being ranked below Boise State in the human polls and b) the matchup with the Utah Utes this Saturday afternoon. If they win, they'll have taken care of b with a likely to follow as a result of b. Edwards remarked that although he believed Nevada and Hawaii-Boise State's two strongest remaining opponents-are good teams, they're generally not considered as such by the media and voters. Utah, on the other hand, is on its way to an AQ conference, went undefeated in 2004 with a win over Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, and then beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl following the 2008 season, going undefeated for a second time in five seasons. A win here would likely propel the Horned Frogs to the #3 spot in the human polls assuming Oregon and Auburn get by Washington and Chattanooga, respectively.
Don't forget about Utah, though. They're also undefeated coming off a close call against Air Force last week, and while TCU has been widely overshadowed by Boise State, it's the Utes that have garnered the least fanfare in terms of playing for the national title. A win by Utah likely won't propel them ahead of Boise State in the human polls, but it may be enough to stave off Alabama at least until that November 26 Iron Bowl matchup between the Tide and the Tigers.
What TCU has to do to win
Play defense. The Horned Frogs rank first in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense. They're fourth in pass efficiency defense and ninth in rushing defense, and you can't argue with 16 points allowed in the past five games. In fact, they're the only defense in the country allowing less than 10 points per game (8.67). The unique 4-2-5 Horned Frogs defense needs to find a way to shut down or at the very least limit a balanced, highly-ranked, well-run Utah offense.
Offensively, the Horned Frogs will face a Utah defense that is very good in its own right. Establishing an effective ground game is important. Andy Dalton is a world-class quarterback, but getting the running game going early will allow TCU to control the clock and the game, and will keep Utah's offense off the field while keeping the Horned Frogs defense fresh all game. This is going to be a defensive battle despite a couple of impressive offenses, so controlling the ball is an important part of this game.
LaMichael James is another important cog of the top ranked total and scoring offense and third ranked rushing offense. James if fifth in the nation in rushing yards and is first in average rushing yards per game. Get him the ball right off the bat so he can get it going early against a USC defense that lets up over 400 yards per game, but a respectable 128.57 rushing yards per game.
The Oregon defense has played well this season. Oregon ranks first in the nation in turnover margin and seventh in pass efficiency defense. But they've let up 31 points to both Arizona State and Stanford and 23 points to Washington State. The USC offense, ranked seventh nationally, has scored more than 30 points in every game but the Virginia game in the second week. Despite losing two of their last three (by a total of three points), USC looked very good against Cal two weeks ago before reemerging in the top 25 after their bye week last weekend. The Ducks must approach the USC defense with getting to Matt Barkley on its mind. Disrupt his timing with his receivers, get in his head and force him to make mistakes.
What Utah has to do to win
The Utes have been waiting for this one ever since they walked off the field after last season's 55-28 embarrassing loss to the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth. Now in Salt Lake City, where TCU has never beaten Utah, the Utes are primed for revenge.
This won't be the first time Utah will face a stout TCU defense. The Horned Frogs ranked first in total defense in 2008 and 2009, with Utah managing 13 and 28 points, respectively. They won the '08 matchup but dropped the '09 game. Utah ranks third in the country in scoring offense, but points will likely be hard to come by in this one. If they can manage 20 to 30 points, they'll be in excellent shape...as long as the Utah defense does its job, of course.
The biggest key for both teams is going to be defense. The Utes must penetrate the line of scrimmage to disrupt the passing game and redirect the rushing game. If the Horned Frogs are allowed to do what they want to do offensively, Utah will face a difficult, uphill battle. This season, Utah is 12th in the nation in sacks, averaging 2.88 a game, and 20th in tackles for loss, averaging 7.25 a game. If both of those aspects of their defense are working Saturday afternoon, they'll have a very good shot at the upset.
TCU. These teams are very similar. Both have excellent defenses, very good quarterbacks and offensive lines, and both maintain very effective rushing games. Whichever team plays better defense, though, will win this one. The old adage 'defense wins championships' will never be truer than in this one with possible national championship implications. TCU gets the edge. How can they not after allowing a total of 16 points in the month of October (five games)? - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
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