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November 11, 2010

Week 11 preview in the Mountain West

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Others

THE SCHEDULE
BYU at Colorado State, 2 p.m.
Utah at Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m.
San Diego State at TCU, 4 p.m.
New Mexico at Air Force, 6 p.m.
Wyoming at UNLV, 10 p.m.

TCU coach Gary Patterson doesn't want to talk at length about the possibility of playing for the national championship.

He realizes the Horned Frogs haven't clinched anything yet.

TCU is third in the BCS standings and strengthened its case for the national title last week with a 47-7 victory at previously unbeaten Utah, which had been ranked fifth in last week's BCS standings. If TCU wins its next two games and either Auburn or Oregon stumbles, the Frogs likely will reach the BCS championship game.

But before they start thinking about the national championship, the Frogs have to wrap up the Mountain West Conference title.

TCU (10-0 overall, 6-0 in the league) must avoid an upset Saturday against San Diego State (7-2, 4-1). TCU clinches at least a share of the MWC crown with a victory, but the Aztecs also control their destiny in the conference title chase.

"We have to finish the race," Patterson said. "If we don't finish the race, then everything we've accomplished up to this point in the season doesn't make any difference."

While this game hasn't garnered a fraction of the attention that last week's TCU-Utah showdown received, San Diego State could end up offering the Frogs more of a challenge.

Each of San Diego State's two losses was decided by three points, and both featured controversial calls against the Aztecs. This game also features MWC rushing leader Ronnie Hillman going against TCU's seventh-ranked run defense.

San Diego State's chances of pulling an upset depend in large part on whether the Aztecs can avoid the slow starts that have hindered them on the road. San Diego State faced early double-digit deficits in their losses at Missouri and BYU, and the Aztecs had to come from behind in the second half last week to win at lowly Wyoming.

The Aztecs' explosive offense can allow them to erase big deficits against most teams, but they can't afford to fall way behind against TCU.

"We've talked about that a lot," San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said. "I don't know if there's a magic wand. It's just one of those things. Do we want to start faster? Yes. Are we trying to start slow? No. We just have to keep pushing it and keep making sure that we've prepared well enough to play and start fast."

Even though this follows one of the most-hyped games in TCU's recent history, the Frogs should be able to avoid an emotional letdown. Not only is this game critical to TCU's hopes of winning the Mountain West and earning a BCS bid, it also marks the last game at TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium before the 80-year-old facility undergoes a $105 million renovation. The press box side of the stadium will be imploded Dec. 5.

"We're going to have close to 400 lettermen who have played here in the last 70-80 years on the field," Patterson said. "This is the last home game for our seniors. There's a chance to win the conference title outright in the last two weeks."

There's enough already at stake that Patterson didn't even need to mention the chance of playing for the national title.

After all, his players already are well aware of that possibility.

Best matchup: Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd vs. Utah CB Brandon Burton. Floyd has caught 55 passes for 728 yards and eight touchdowns, giving him 24 career touchdown receptions. Burton is rated as the No. 5 cornerback in the 2012 draft class by the website nfldraftscout.com. Burton struggled last week against TCU, but he can raise his stock Saturday by keeping Floyd out of the end zone and holding him below 100 receiving yards. Notre Dame is using freshman QB Tommy Rees following a season-ending injury to regular starter Dayne Crist, but the Irish's off-week gave Rees extra time to prepare for this game.

Player on the spot: San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman. San Diego State won't have a chance of pulling the upset unless Hillman finds some running room against a TCU defense that has seemed impenetrable the past several weeks. The Aztecs have arguably the MWC's two top receivers in DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown, but TCU hasn't allowed a single team to throw for 200 yards this season. San Diego State must run the ball effectively to have any shot. Hillman ranks ninth in the nation with 116 rushing yards per game, and he gained 228 yards against Missouri earlier this season. TCU allowed SMU's Zach Line to run for 139 yards on Sept. 24, but the Horned Frogs haven't let any individual exceed 57 rushing yards in the six games since.

Numbers game: TCU is 10-0 and has been particularly dominant in its past six games. The Horned Frogs outscored those opponents 236-23. TCU recorded two shutouts during that stretch and yielded fewer than 10 points in each game. TCU is the first team to hold six consecutive opponents to single-digit scores since 1990, when Alabama allowed fewer than 10 points in seven consecutive games. TCU has held seven opponents below 10 points this season. Three times since 1990, a team has held an opponent to single-digit scoring eight times in a season. The three schools to accomplish that feat were Kansas State in 1998, Miami in 2002 and USC in 2008.

What they're saying

"It's a lot of rumors. It reminds me of high school: 'Who are you asking to go to the prom?' Nothing has been done yet." -- TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, to the Sporting News about rumors linking his school to the Big East. Del Conte added that he had little to no interest in moving his football program to one conference while keeping his school's other sports in a different league

"You have the right to do whatever you want to do, if you pay your money. I'm not one of those guys to say you've got to act this way or that way. How you act is how you choose to act." -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, to the Salt Lake Tribune about the home crowd's booing during a 47-7 loss to TCU last week. Utah had entered the game 8-0 and fifth in the BCS standings

"We have three games left, and I think we are capable of winning all of them." -- BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, to the Salt Lake Tribune. BYU's three remaining games are against Colorado State, New Mexico and Utah

"I have one interest. What it is is to do everything we can right here to get ready to play New Mexico on Saturday. You're allowed to have those ideas. You are. We won't." -- Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, to The (Colorado Springs) Gazette on whether he might have any interest in the Colorado coaching vacancy

"It's great to rush on the field with our fans. You can't ask for anything better than that. It's like a party in there [the locker room]. It's awesome." -- New Mexico LB Carmen Messina, after a 34-31 victory over Wyoming that gave the Lobos their first win of the season

"That was the absolute most difficult loss of my career." -- Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, to the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune about the Cowboys' loss to New Mexico. Wyoming gained 536 yards of total offense but committed three turnovers in the red zone

"Frankly, I don't think we have enough toughness on our team -- in particular, mental toughness. And that starts with the head coach not being tough enough. I have got to improve myself, and we're going to spend the next 10 months developing toughness on our football team because when things go wrong for us, we have a tendency to let them snowball on us. And that's not good because we don't have the ability, when things start to go the wrong direction, to pull ourselves by the bootstraps and make things happen." -- UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, to the Las Vegas Sun after a 55-7 loss to BYU that dropped the Rebels' record to 1-8

Etc.: Air Force's Troy Calhoun, TCU's Gary Patterson and Utah's Kyle Whittingham have been selected as three of the 15 semifinalists for the Joe Paterno Coach of the Year Award. The award is based on success on the field, in the classroom and in the community. BYU TE Marcus Mathews will miss the rest of the season with a lacerated spleen. Mathews had caught eight passes for 136 yards this season. Colorado State LB Alex Williams likely will miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury against San Diego State last week. Williams ranks fourth on the team with 61 tackles. When BYU's Jake Heaps squares off with Colorado State's Pete Thomas this week, it will mark the third time this season two true freshman quarterbacks have faced each other in an FBS game. The other two instances occurred last week. UCF's Jeffrey Godfrey outdueled Houston's David Piland in the Knights' 40-33 victory over the Cougars on Friday, and Chase Rettig helped Boston College beat Tanner Price and Wake Forest 23-13 on Saturday. UNLV will be seeking its first homecoming win since 2001 when it hosts Wyoming this week. New Mexico true freshman Stump Godfrey was the fourth quarterback to start a game for the Lobos this season, and he threw two touchdowns and ran for a third score in a victory over Wyoming. Godfrey was 16-of-20 for 211 yards, and he also ran for 69 yards on 23 carries. San Diego State beat Colorado State 24-19 last week despite committing five turnovers while having just one takeaway. This marked the first time since 1989 that the Aztecs had won a game in which they were minus-four in turnover margin. San Diego State had lost 15 such games during that stretch. TCU QB Andy Dalton has a chance to break the MWC record for total offense this week. Dalton has 11,293 yards in total offense. The record is held by Max Hall, who gained 11,569 yards for BYU from 2007-09. TCU can set an MWC record Saturday by winning its 14th consecutive home conference game. Utah had won 13 home conference games in a row -- and 21 consecutive overall home games -- before losing to TCU last week. Utah's game at Notre Dame this week marks the latest date in a season the Utes have played a non-conference game in more than two decades. Utah played Utah State on Nov. 12, 1988. The Utes haven't played a November non-conference game against an opponent outside the state of Utah since 1977. Wyoming RB Alvester Alexander's 94-yard run against Wyoming last week was the nation's longest run from scrimmage this season. The No. 2 run from scrimmage also belongs to an MWC player, as San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman had a 93-yard gain against Missouri. Wyoming lost to New Mexico last week despite having three players rush for 100 yards: Alexander, RB Robert Herron and QB Austyn Carta-Samuels. This marked the fourth time in MWC history that three players from one school rushed for 100 yards in the same game, but it was the first instance of an MWC team losing while accomplishing that feat.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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