FORT WORTH (AP) - TCU is looking for another perfect ending in the Mountain West Conference, this time for good.
day over UNLV, the No. 18 Frogs (9-2, 6-0 MWC) clinch their third consecutive outright and unblemished league title before moving to the Big 12 Conference next season. They have won a record 23 consecutive Mountain West games since November 2008.
“It’s been a fun ride. This year has especially been fun because the past two years before this, everybody almost expected us to win,” senior fullback Luke Shivers said. “This year is kind of like people didn’t really know. … Proving we are a good program, we are a good team, that’s been fun.”
After consecutive undefeated regular seasons and BCS appearances, including a Rose Bowl victory last January that led to No. 2 final ranking, the Frogs began this season without quarterback Andy Dalton and seven other offensive starters. There were also key losses from the nation’s best defense the past three years.
The Frogs opened with a wild 50-48 loss to No. 19 Baylor and Heisman Trophy hopeful Robert Griffin III, and had an uncharacteristic 3-2 record after losing at home in overtime against SMU on Oct. 1. They have since won six in a row, the biggest a 36-35 thriller at then-No. 5 Boise State three weeks ago that ended the Broncos’ national championship dreams and their 35-game regular-season home winning streak.
“I will remember this as much, because this group wasn’t given much of a chance,” coach Gary Patterson said.
TCU is a nearly six-touchdown favorite to win the regular season finale against UNLV (2-9, 1-5). The Rebels have lost four in a row, and seven of eight. They had a 14-0 lead last weekend before San Diego State scored 31 consecutive points.
There is still an outside shot for TCU to get another Bowl Championship Series bowl berth if Houston loses Saturday in the Conference USA championship game against Southern Miss, the team that ended a likely BCS chance for the Horned Frogs by beating them in 2003. There would also have to be some changes in the computers and poll voters that help determine the BCS standings.
“We have to focus on what we can control. We can’t control what bowl we go to,” linebacker Kris Gardner said. “Let’s take care of our business to make sure just in case somebody slips up that we can get to a BCS game.”
Houston’s C-USA title game should be close to ending when the Frogs kick off their home finale.
“You can’t worry about what happens with the other score,” Patterson said. “The fans will see the scoreboard and we’ll know that answer by the cheer if it comes up that they’re behind.”
The Frogs are coming off their second open date this season, one that allowed the players to spend Thanksgiving away from the field. After their previous weekend off in mid-October, they came back the following week with a 69-0 victory over New Mexico.
While TCU is trying to get to 10 wins for the fourth consecutive year, and eighth time in Patterson’s 11 seasons, Rebels coach Bobby Hauck is only two years into what was expected to be a tough rebuilding effort.
UNLV has already used three different starting quarterbacks this season, the first time that has happened for the Rebels since 1998. They were 2-11 last season and have equaled that win total this year.
“I think we’re night and day from where we were a year ago,” Hauck said. “We are a lot tougher, a lot further along in terms of guys playing hard. We just need to grow them up a little bit.”
Before getting to UNLV, Hauck spent seven seasons as head coach in Montana, where he had an 80-17 record and led the Grizzlies to three FCS championship games. His second season with the Rebels will end the same way it began, against one of last season’s Rose Bowl teams. They began this season with a 51-17 loss at Wisconsin, the team TCU beat in Pasadena.
“It’s interesting that we started the season with one of last year’s Rose Bowls participants, and we finish the season with one,” Hauck. “TCU will be a real test.”
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