It wasn't until about halfway through the second quarter that TCU realized it still had a chance.
The score of the Conference USA title game - Southern Miss 49, Houston 28 — flashed across the video board at Amon G. Carter Stadium, and TCU suddenly had a surge of energy. Over the next seven minutes of the game, the Horned Frogs scored four touchdowns against UNLV to end the first half.
"We were able to see some of it on TV before we went out and then we saw the score on the screen," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "When Southern Miss got the lead, we started to play harder there at the end of the first half."
The win locked up sole possession of the Mountain West title for the third consecutive season and moving into a position to be selected for a BCS game. Now it's up to voters. The Horned Frogs were ranked No. 18 in last week's BCS standings and need to move into the top 16 to be eligible for an automatic BCS bowl berth. Even though Boise State is ranked above the Horned Frogs, TCU is the conference champion, a requisite for BCS bowl automatic qualification for non-AQ teams.
"There are other teams with one or two losses that might be deserving of playing in a BCS game," Patterson said. "We'll have to see how the voting goes, but I am interested to see the voting. I declined this year to vote because of the change in conferences and I didn't want to anyone to think there was any bias. I'll be interested to look at everybody else's vote."
The coaches' poll was not good news for TCU, which only moved up two spots to No. 15. Because the UNLV win probably won't help them in the computer rankings, the Horned Frogs need a generous ranking in the Harris Poll to move up to No. 16 in the BCS. Last week, the Horned Frogs were No. 17 in the Harris Poll and five teams ahead of them lost this week and five didn't play.
The key teams that could push TCU into the top 16 are No. 13 Michigan State, which lost to No. 15 Wisconsin, and No. 10 Oklahoma, which lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State. Oklahoma is really the lynchpin because it has three losses and two of those losses are to bad teams. Oklahoma did fall from No. 11 to No. 19 in the coaches poll, which is an encouraging sign for the Horned Frogs.
Also, TCU needs Houston to suffer a significant drop to clear room in the top 16. The Cougars did drop from No. 6 to No. 17 in the coaches poll, but whether it will drop 11 spots from No. 6 in the BCS standings remains to be seen.
If TCU doesn't get in, it opens the door for Boise State to possibly take an at-large spot. The Broncos' lone loss is to TCU and it ranked No. 7 in last week's BCS standings. It defeated New Mexico 45-0, but since the Lobos were 1-10 going into the game, it probably won't help the Broncos in the computer rankings.
If the Broncos are shut out of the BCS, they could be the highest ranked team not to play in a BCS bowl since the field was expanded to 10 teams.
If TCU gets in, it would be the first non-AQ team to play in a BCS bowl with two losses. In the past, BCS bowl teams have gone undefeated. TCU actually started the season 3-2 and was all but left for dead in terms of the BCS. So, for the Horned Frogs to make a BCS game, would actually be quite amazing.
Patterson didn't campaign for his team's third consecutive BCS bowl after the game, knowing that his team was battling with several others for one of the coveted BCS bowl spots, but he did think his team did all it could do to state its case.
"I told them before the game that all we could do was control our own destiny," Patterson said.
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Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.