FORT WORTH, Texas -- TCU had a perfect ending in the Mountain West Conference that could get even sweeter.
The 18th-ranked Horned Frogs could be busting into the BCS again after their third consecutive outright -- and unblemished -- Mountain West title, which they clinched with a 56-9 victory Saturday over UNLV. It was their last game in the league.
"We're probably going to celebrate more on winning the conference championship than we are going to be waiting on the BCS," senior linebacker Kris Gardner said. "But definitely fingers crossed."
If the Horned Frogs (10-2, 7-0 MWC) move up two spots into the top 16 of the final Bowl Championship Series standings Sunday night, they will be virtually guaranteed of going to their third consecutive BCS game. Their likely destination would be the Sugar Bowl.
Coach Gary Patterson turned down an opportunity to campaign for help from the human voters who, combined with the computers, determine the BCS standings.
"But I will tell you this, I will be interested in seeing the voting," Patterson said. "Never have (campaigned), not going to do it now. I didn't do it back in 2008, didn't do it in 2009, didn't do it in 2010, sure not going to do it in 2011. We're a lot better football team than we were at the start of the year."
TCU has won seven consecutive games since an overtime loss at home to SMU on Oct. 1. The winning streak includes a 36-35 win over then-No. 5 Boise State three weeks ago that ended the Broncos' 35-game regular-season home winning streak. The Frogs' other loss was 50-48 in the season opener at Baylor.
The Frogs, who are moving to the Big 12 Conference next season, are leaving the Mountain West with a record 24 consecutive conference victories. They have their fourth consecutive 10-win season.
Greg McCoy returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and Gardner had a 16-yard interception return for a score in a 12-second span just before halftime for a 35-6 lead.
That came about the same time Southern Miss was wrapping up a 49-28 victory at previously undefeated Houston in the Conference USA championship game. Updates of that game were being announced to the crowd, and getting big cheers.
"After that, it was like fuel to our fire, we saw the opportunity to take it," McCoy said.
Any champion from a non-automatic qualifying conference is guaranteed a BCS berth by finishing in the top 16 and higher than a champion from a league with an automatic BCS berth.
TCU is already higher in the BCS standings than West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville, the co-champions of the Big East, the league the Frogs were going to join before opting for the Big 12 instead. Southern Miss is 24th in the latest BCS standings, six spots behind TCU. Houston was sixth and would have been in one of the big games with a championship in non-AQ Conference USA.
In 2003, Southern Miss handed the Frogs their first loss in a late November game that cost them a BCS chance then.
"About time they paid us back," Patterson said.
The regular-season finale was the last home game for 19 TCU seniors, a class that has won a school-record 46 games and was part of the Frogs' win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last January that wrapped up a 13-0 season. They went to the school's first-ever BCS game two years ago, losing the Fiesta Bowl to Boise State after an undefeated regular season.
UNLV (2-10, 1-6) led 3-0 after Nolan Kohorst kicked a 39-yard field goal with 5:35 left in the first quarter before TCU scored 21 unanswered points.
Pachall had his TD on an 8-yard keeper and James on a 10-yard run. Then on the first play after a blocked punt, Tucker ran straight up the middle for a 32-yard TD when at least five defenders got his hands on him without bringing him down.
After Kohorst kicked a 43-yard field goal with 2:13 left in the first half, McCoy and Gardner followed with their big returns.
"We were in the game and playing hard and fairly well, but any time we match up with TCU's speed, skill and athletic ability, you are holding your breath every time the ball goes out. They're awfully good," UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. "When you get those back-to-back scores that really takes the wind out of your sails."
McCoy, who already had a kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this season, backpedaled to field the ball just in front of the goal line and then took off. He ran through a group of players on the left side before breaking into the open and sprinting all the way down the field.
When the Rebels got the ball back, Gardner picked off a pass by freshman Taylor Barnhill and went untouched into the end zone.
The Rebels finished the season with a five-game losing streak and are 4-21 in two seasons under Hauck, who was 80-17 and led Montana to three FCS championship games in seven years before that.