Style points can be critical these days for college football’s four remaining unbeatens, and TCU didn’t earn too many after having to sweat out a five-point win in its latest game.
Facing New Mexico should provide a perfect platform for a more comfortable margin.
The fourth-ranked Horned Frogs get their last chance to make a compelling BCS statement Saturday in Albuquerque, where they’ll try to complete an unbeaten regular season against the six-touchdown underdog Lobos.
TCU (11-0, 7-0 Mountain West) inserted itself as a serious contender in the BCS championship discussion with a 47-7 whitewashing at then-No. 6 Utah on Nov. 6, but a week later, that win almost became an afterthought.
The Utes lost 28-3 at Notre Dame - devaluing TCU’s signature win - and the Horned Frogs themselves nearly followed their big victory with disaster Nov. 13. Despite piling up 27 first downs to San Diego State’s seven, TCU still needed to hang on in the closing minutes for a 40-35 victory.
“I can’t do anything about the polls. I would say we found a way to win in a conference game. We played a big game and we didn’t play as well as we needed to the next week,” coach Gary Patterson said. “It’s not the final score we would have liked to have had, but the bottom line, it falls under my category of (to win) by one point.
“The bottom line is we’re 11-0. That is what we wanted to do.”
It’ll almost certainly take a loss by Oregon or Auburn to give Boise State or TCU a shot at the title game, but the Broncos - currently fourth in the BCS while the Horned Frogs are third - might wind up being first in line. Boise State beat Fresno State 51-0 while TCU was idle last week, and a Friday game at No. 19 Nevada gives it another chance to impress.
The Horned Frogs, who can clinch their second consecutive outright Mountain West title, are 43 1/2-point favorites against New Mexico (1-10, 1-6). Even a huge margin of victory, however, won’t offset the hit their strength of schedule will take by facing one of the worst teams in the FBS.
“There are so many things going on that we have no control over,” TCU receiver Bart Johnson said.
There’s little reason to believe the Lobos can hang with the Horned Frogs, though they might be a good judge of who’s worthy of playing in the BCS championship game after opening their season at Oregon.
New Mexico lost 72-0 as it was outgained 720-107. The other ranked opponent it faced was Utah on Sept. 18, when it lost 56-14.
The Lobos’ offense averages just 278.1 yards per game - 118th in the nation - and that doesn’t bode well against the Horned Frogs’ defense, which is No. 1 against the pass (134.6 ypg) and overall (223.2).
TCU tailback Ed Wesley is nursing a foot injury that could limit him Saturday, but that shouldn’t keep quarterback Andy Dalton and the Horned Frogs’ offense from piling up points. New Mexico allows an average of 246.3 yards on the ground - worst in the FBS.
The Lobos are tied for sixth in the nation with 28 turnovers, and that’s what cost them any chance of winning Saturday at BYU. The Lobos turned the ball over four times - twice on interceptions by freshman Stump Godfrey - in a 40-7 loss.
“We had an inconsistent offense,” coach Mike Locksley said. “(BYU) did some things well and we tried to adjust on offense, but our QB never really was able to make up for his early mistakes.”
TCU has won the last five meetings by an average of 25.6 points. Dalton threw for four TDs in a 51-10 romp Nov. 28, 2009.