The BYU-TCU showdown typically is one of the biggest Mountain West games of the season. The latest edition of this rivalry, though, might not even rank as the conference's best game of the week.
TCU (6-0) heads into Saturday's game as a 29-point favorite over the beleaguered Cougars (2-4), who ended a four-game losing streak last week by winning 24-21 at San Diego State. TCU coach Gary Patterson has warned against overconfidence by reminding his players about the lesson of 2006.
BYU won 31-17 at TCU four years ago to end the Horned Frogs' 13-game winning streak, which was the longest in the nation at the time. Of course, that BYU team went on to finish 11-2. BYU could struggle to finish over .500 this season.
"This game reminds me of 2006 in terms of where we are and what we're trying to get done," Patterson said. "When they came here that year, we were higher-ranked and they went on to win the conference championship. It's the same kind of feeling like they have something to prove, and that game didn't turn out very well for us."
BYU showed signs of turning things around last week. Three players rushed for at least 50 yards to lead a 271-yard ground attack. The Cougars also played much better defense in the first game since the firing of former coordinator Jaime Hill.
Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall is concentrating on continuing that progress rather than worrying about a TCU team that has recorded back-to-back shutouts.
"The focus is on improving our team," Mendenhall said. "TCU is the next opponent, but I didn't address San Diego State really at all last week. I really don't intend to address TCU this week. My focus is still on our team and driving them and motivating them and teaching them. TCU is just our next opponent."
It's tough to imagine BYU improving so much that it pulls an upset at TCU. A more intriguing MWC matchup this week involves Air Force's visit to San Diego State. Air Force has the nation's top rushing offense, while San Diego State has the MWC's top individual rusher in Ronnie Hillman.
Air Force (5-1) has the better team, but San Diego State (3-2) may be better than its record suggests. Each of the Aztecs' two losses was decided by only three points and featured a controversial call.
"They're a block in the back and a review of a fumble away from being probably a top-20 football team," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
Of course, this also is a team that hasn't earned a bowl bid since 1998. After losing to BYU, San Diego State needs a solid performance this week to prove that its program really has turned the corner.
Best matchup: San Diego State WRs Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson vs. Air Force CBs Anthony Wright and Reggie Rembert. Brown and Sampson form one of the nation's top receiving duos, while Wright and Rembert comprise the MWC's best cornerback tandem. Brown has caught 26 passes for 433 yards and three touchdowns to lead the MWC in receiving yards per game. Sampson, the league's second-leading receiver, has 23 catches for 420 yards and two scores. Wright and Rembert have helped give Air Force the nation's eighth-ranked pass efficiency defense. Brown caught 10 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-14 loss to Air Force last season.
Player on the spot: UNLV RB Tim Cornett. This true freshman from the Houston area made his first career start last week and rushed for 56 yards on 12 carries in a 49-10 loss to West Virginia. He remains atop the depth chart for Saturday's game with Colorado State and will get every opportunity to help spark a rushing attack that ranks 98th in the nation. This game should represent a great chance for Cornett to prove himself. Colorado State's defense ranks 110th in the nation against the run.
Numbers game: TCU has led the nation in total defense each of the past two seasons and is ranked first in that category again this season. The Horned Frogs have allowed just 230.2 yards per game and have given up only eight touchdowns though its first six contests. Iowa and Missouri have yielded six touchdowns each and Nebraska has given up eight, but those three schools have played only five games. TCU also has recorded back-to-back shutouts. No team in conference history has recorded three shutouts in one season.
What they're saying
"In the 16 years I've been here, there hasn't been another team I've enjoyed more than these guys. They care about each other and there is an unselfish streak that runs through this team. That is a tremendous asset for us. They are ... a group of guys who don't seem to be concerned or care about who is getting the press. All they care about is winning." -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, to The Salt Lake Tribune
"A culture shift took place on our football team this week. It started with how fired up we were on defense, and it spread to our offense." -- BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, to the Deseret News of Salt Lake City after the Cougars' 24-21 victory over San Diego State
"If I step on your foot, I'll say 'sorry.' But I still stepped on your foot." -- San Diego State coach Brady Hoke, to The San Diego Union-Tribune after relaying that MWC coordinator of officials Ken Rivera indicated the officiating crew made an error during the Aztecs' loss to BYU. Officials ruled BYU RB JJ Di Luigi's knee was down when he fumbled in the third quarter. Replay officials didn't overturn the decision, even though TV replays showed the ball came loose before Di Luigi's knee hit the ground. Hoke said the three replay officials who worked the game have received a one-game suspension.
"He's Reggie Bush. ... He is better than Marshall Faulk was as a freshman." -- Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, to The (Colorado Springs) Gazette about San Diego State freshman RB Ronnie Hillman
Etc.: UNLV WR Phillip Payne was suspended from last week's 49-10 loss to West Virginia after criticizing the Rebels' coaching staff on his Twitter account. UNLV coach Bobby Hauck hasn't updated Payne's status for Saturday's game at Colorado State. ... TCU QB Andy Dalton surpassed 10,000 career yards in total offense last week against Wyoming. Dalton now is at 10,075 yards. The only players in Mountain West history to gain more yards are former BYU QBs Max Hall (11,569) and John Beck (11,060). ... Utah is the only team in the country to score at least 50 points in three consecutive games. Boise State and Oregon are the only other teams in the country with three 50-point performances this season. ... Wyoming QB Austyn Carta-Samuels will return to action Saturday against Utah after an injury forced him to miss last week's game with TCU. ... Air Force's Jon Warzeka and Utah's Reggie Dunn each delivered a 100-yard kickoff return Saturday, which marked the first time two MWC players from different schools had scored on a kickoff return on the same day. ... Air Force has blocked three punts and one field-goal attempt in its past two games. ... Utah has allowed only one sack all season. Boise State is the only other team that has given up just one sack. ... Air Force has played 17 true freshmen this season to tie Florida for the most in the nation. ... Colorado State's Derek Good returned eight kickoffs for 263 yards Saturday against Air Force to break teammate Tony Drake's conference record for kickoff-return yardage. ... New Mexico's 16-14 loss to New Mexico State last week gave the Lobos back-to-back losses against their in-state rival for the first time since 1998-99. New Mexico also has lost 13 consecutive road games since winning 35-24 at New Mexico State on Sept. 27, 2008.