36F Bronco Stadium, Boise, ID
BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- - Boise State hasn't wasted any time turning up the intensity in advance of Saturday's showdown with TCU.
Defensive lineman Chase Baker noticed it right away when he walked into the Broncos' weight and conditioning facility Sunday afternoon.
Nobody was clowning around. No wisecracking. None of the typical joy or jubilation that follows a convincing victory like the 48-21 beating the No. 5 Broncos handed UNLV the night before.
"It was straight to business. You could hear a pin drop," Baker said. "You can just feel it, it's a different atmosphere right now, and TCU kind of brings that out in us.
"We're a lot more focused this week than we have been in the past weeks," he said.
There are plenty of good reasons for the Boise State mood shift.
The two teams have squared off in a pair of postseason doozies in their climb from small conference wonders to perennial BCS busters.
In 2008, TCU beat the Broncos 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl, and in doing so spoiled Boise State's bid to finish 13-0 for the second straight year.
The Broncos returned the favor in 2010, knocking off TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.
"We really enjoy playing against them," Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson said. "Boise State, number one, is very well coached. Their kids are very smart, they always play very physical. ... They've got the kind of player that's at a high level of being an NFL-type person that can play. You put that all together and you have quite a machine."
But Saturday's tussle is more than just a rubber match between these two short-term conference foes. The game is already being billed in Boise as the equivalent of the Mountain West Conference championship.
"We understand that anytime you play Boise State, you're getting ready for a battle," Patterson said.
Both teams are undefeated in the conference, and considering the remaining games on each of their schedules, the winner will have the inside track in the run for the crown. TCU closes out the season with home games against Colorado State and UNLV, while Boise State (8-0, 3-0) travels to San Diego State before wrapping up at home against Wyoming and New Mexico.
Despite some early hiccups, TCU (7-2, 4-0) has won four straight games and has won 21 straight games against foes from a conference it's leaving at the end of the season. On Saturday, the Horned Frogs rolled over Wyoming and rediscovered their running game in the process. TCU beat the Cowboys 31-20 and rushed for a season-best 390 yards.
"They're as talented as any team in the country," said Kellen Moore, who has yet to throw a touchdown pass in his two games against TCU. "I think this is going to be two really good teams, and obviously this year there are some conference implications tied to it."
As impressive as the Broncos looked against UNLV Saturday night, the win didn't come cheaply.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen declined to get into specifics, but he said leading rusher Doug Martin is listed as day-to-day after injuring a leg in the first half Saturday. The same for defensive end Billy Winn, who watched the game in street clothes, and cornerback Jamar Taylor, who didn't travel with the team to Las Vegas.
Petersen said Martin, who has rushed for 756 yards this season and averages 5.5 yards per carry, could have played if necessary, but his uncertainty leaves the Broncos without a lot of seasoned ball carriers. The team has already lost fullback Dan Paul for the season, as well as backup tailbacks Malcolm Johnson and Jay Ajayi.
Senior D.J. Harper filled in for Martin against the Rebels, rushing for 109 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.
"We've got some guys banged up," Petersen said. "We'll just see how things go this week. I think it's great for (Harper). We expect that out of him though."