College Football Overtime (cont.)
Historically, TCU and Utah have almost nothing in common. They've only been members of the same conference since 2005 (excluding a three-year stint together in the WAC in the late '90s), and even that relationship will end when the Utes join the Pac-10 next season. In the meantime, however, they'll stage their most significant Mountain West clash to date when the No. 4 Horned Frogs (9-0) visit No. 6 Utah (8-0) on Saturday.
"Ever since they joined the league, it's been a competitive situation," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Sunday. "Coach Patterson and I are both defensive guys, and there are a lot of parallels between the two programs. We've had some big ones in the past, but I'm fairly certain neither of us have been ranked this highly at the same time going into this game."
Correct. In 2008, Utah was ranked 10th, TCU 11th, when the 9-0 Utes scored on a last-minute touchdown to beat the 9-1 Horned Frogs, 13-10. They went on to finish 13-0 and No. 2 in the final polls. Last year, fourth-ranked TCU throttled 16th-ranked Utah, 55-28, in Fort Worth en route to the Fiesta Bowl.
This year's edition features what both fan bases believe to be their best teams yet. TCU has been as dominant as one might expect for a veteran team coming off a 12-1 season. The Frogs' defense is allowing just 8.7 points per game, while the emergence of tailback Ed Wesley (104.2 yards per game) has made quarterback Andy Dalton and the offense that much more dangerous. The Frogs aren't flashy, but they don't need to be considering the defense rarely gives up touchdowns.
Utah's marked improvement from last year's 10-3 finish has been a bit more surprising, though it probably shouldn't be considering the program has long since demonstrated its considerable talent level (10 NFL draft picks over the past two years). Quarterback Jordan Wynn missed two games, but returned in time to lead a 68-27 rout at Iowa State. The offense struggled Saturday in a 28-23 win at Air Force, but the defense made two fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter.
Whittingham didn't mind the scare. His team hadn't been tested by anyone since a 27-24 overtime win against Pittsburgh in Week 1, and the experience could come in handy against TCU. "We haven't had a team that's had better chemistry than these guys," Whittingham said. "This has probably been my most enjoyable year of coaching." Presumably, he'd enjoy giving TCU a going-away present even more.
This is getting serious, folks. Becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1995 was one thing. But after Baylor's first victory at Texas since 1991 -- even if it did come against a slumping, bumbling Longhorns squad -- it's time to embrace the possibility that the Bears (7-2, 4-1 Big 12) could be three games away from playing for the Big 12 championship.
"We had some team goals in our initial meetings like everyone in Division I football," Bears coach Art Briles said Sunday. "[Reaching a bowl] was initially what our goal was. We've accomplished No. 1. Now we work on No. 2 -- representing the South."
Is this really happening? Is the coach of Baylor really talking with a straight face about wining a division title? Yes. And why shouldn't he? Rather than wilting as the stakes grow higher, the Bears seem to be getting better by the week. Saturday, they showed off their newfound balance in wiping out a 19-10 deficit to win 30-22, getting big plays both from star quarterback Robert Griffin III (219 passing yards and a 20-yard touchdown run) and running back Jay Finley (a 69-yard touchdown).
"The tide has changed," Griffin said afterward. "This year, we're the team to beat."
Realistically, No. 11 Oklahoma (7-1) and No. 19 Oklahoma State (7-1) are still the teams to beat. Baylor has to go to Stillwater next weekend before hosting Texas A&M (5-3) and the Sooners. But Briles has upgraded the program's talent and depth considerably, and even if the Bears get just one more victory to finish 8-4, he should be up for every coach of the year award in existence.
For years, skeptics suggested that perhaps the Big 12 should kick out Baylor. The Bears have gone either 0-8 or 1-7 in conference play in all but three seasons since the league's 1996 inception. Remember, Baylor was fortunate to even be included in the conference, and was a beneficiary of some friendly Texas politicians. This year, it's got a better chance than any of the other Big 12 Texas schools of winning the conference.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:
Title game: Oregon vs. Alabama
Rose: Wisconsin vs. Utah
Fiesta: Nebraska vs. Pittsburgh
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State
Sugar: Auburn vs. Boise State
The assumption all season has been that if Boise State doesn't reach the title game, it will land in the Rose Bowl as the highest ranked non-AQ team. But in the latest BCS standings, TCU has edged ahead of the Broncos. So where would Boise land if it got shut out of both Glendale and Pasadena? It would most likely be the scenario that's laid out here -- which would actually be kind of awesome. Paranoid Auburn fans have taken to the Web and radio talk shows en masse lately to voice their disgust with Boise State's existence. It's kind of bizarre -- but the possibility of them facing each other in a BCS bowl is pretty fantastic.
Meanwhile, it will continue to be a weekly guessing game trying to project the Big Ten champion, but from what I can tell the Badgers stand the best chance in most tiebreaker scenarios because they beat both Ohio State and Iowa and they're now ranked higher than Michigan State in the BCS standings. Of course, the Buckeyes could still move back ahead of the Badgers with a win over Iowa and a Wisconsin loss.