TCU looked every bit like a team worthy of playing for the BCS title following last weekend's stunning win over a highly ranked opponent.
While national championship game talk is rampant, the team's first priority is winning the Mountain West Conference title.
The third-ranked Horned Frogs look to earn a share of the conference championship Saturday with a victory over San Diego State in the final game at Amon G. Carter Stadium before a major renovation.
In one of the most highly anticipated games in MWC history and a showdown that would essentially eliminate one program from the BCS picture, TCU (10-0, 6-0) beat then-No. 6 Utah 47-7 on the road last Saturday. The Horned Frogs pounced on the Utes early, scoring 20 first-quarter points, and led 23-0 at the half with a 328-72 advantage in total offense.
"Everybody understands what kind of a team Utah has, and for us to do it the way we did ... says a lot about what we've done as a program and what we do," coach Gary Patterson said. "We wanted to be peaking at the end of the year and I think we have an opportunity to do that."
Although the Frogs, owners of a 23-game regular-season winning streak, remained in third place in the BCS standings, they did take some of the votes away from Boise State, causing it to drop from second to fourth. This puts TCU in prime position to jump into the BCS title game if either Oregon or Auburn should slip.
"The bottom line is that they put themselves on a different plateau," Patterson said of his team. "They have to finish the season and we can only control what we can control."
That means the Frogs, first in the FBS in scoring defense at 8.5 points and total defense at 231.4 yards per game, need to beat San Diego State (7-2, 4-1) and New Mexico in their final two games.
TCU hasn't had much trouble against the Aztecs, outscoring them by an average of 28.8 points in winning the first five meetings. In last season's 55-12 road victory, the Frogs rolled up 551 yards as Andy Dalton passed for 239 yards with two touchdowns and also ran for two scores.
Dalton is one of the biggest reasons TCU is poised to win a second consecutive conference championship. The senior passed for a career-high 355 yards and three touchdowns against Utah, giving him 14 TDs to one interception in six MWC games. The Frogs, first in the league with averages of 41.4 points and 492.9 yards of total offense, are outscoring their conference opponents 236-23.
This will be the final game Dalton and his 25 senior teammates play at Amon G. Carter Stadium, where TCU has won 19 straight. It will also be the last contest there for most juniors, as renovations for the 80-year old stadium will begin immediately after the game and won't be completed until 2012.
"It's the last game in the great Amon G. Carter Stadium," Patterson said. "It's the last home game for our seniors. More importantly, it's an opportunity to get to 11 wins. There's a chance to win the conference title outright in the next two weeks."
The Aztecs are also in the running for the Mountain West title, but their road is tougher. After facing TCU, San Diego State concludes the season with home games against No. 15 Utah and UNLV.
The Aztecs, just outside the Top 25, are also close to being undefeated, as their two losses -- at Missouri in September and at BYU last month -- were each by three points. Since losing to the Cougars, San Diego State has reeled off four straight wins for the first time since 1998, the last time it went to a bowl.
In last Saturday's 24-19 victory over Colorado State, Ronnie Hillman rushed for 151 yards, pushing his season total to 1,044. He became the third San Diego State freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, joining Marshall Faulk (1991) and Lionel Hamilton (1994).
Top 25 Overview
After waxing formerly unbeaten Utah on the road last week, TCU heads home with a chance to claim a share of the conference title with a win over San Diego State. The Aztecs haven't posed much of a problem in the first five meetings between the schools, losing by an average of nearly 30 points. But this SDSU team is much improved, having already won its most games since 1998.