For those of you with access to CBS College Sports (I'm not one of them), consider yourselves very lucky: you get to check out a game that could very well decide the Mountain West when TCU visits Utah tonight. Of course, the Utes still have BYU on the schedule, but a TCU win could essentially lock up the conference title for the Horned Frogs and set them up for a run at a BCS at-large berth. Also on the schedule before Saturday is another attempt by the ACC to provide some clarity to its race, and a pair of WAC teams treading water in regards to bowl eligibility.
#23 Maryland @ Virginia Tech 7:30 PM EST on ESPN
The lone ACC team with one conference loss is Maryland, and the Terps visit Blacksburg to take on the banged-up Hokies. In their loss at Florida State less than two weeks ago both Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon went down with ankle injuries, only to watch helplessly as the Seminole defense went after Cory Holt and engineered the comeback 30-20 win. Both are gametime decisions for this one, a game that the Hokies desperately need if they're to be a factor in the Coastal Division race the remainder of the year. Maryland, on the other hand, is one of those "Jekyll and Hyde" teams that you really don't know what to expect.
One week they're beating a ranked Cal team at home; and the next time you see them they're getting shut out at Virginia. RB Da'Rel Scott needs to have a big game for the Terps to be successful, but he'll have a tough time doing so against a stout Hokie front four. But Chris Turner will be the best quarterback on the field, which is why the Terrapins will pull out a close win. Also, one interesting fact: the head coaches (Frank Beamer and Ralph Friedgen) go a ways back, coaching together at Maryland (1972) and at The Citadel (1973-78). They (and their wives) were also in the same lamaze class preceeding the births of their first children.
#12 TCU @ #8 Utah 8 PM EST on CBS College Sports
The BCS at-large sweepstakes will lose one more contestant with this game, a showdown that will also go a long way in determining who wins the Mountain West. With only one loss between them (TCU at Oklahoma) these are clearly two of the better teams in America, even if their league doesn't get the attention that's regularly lavished upon the BCS leagues. The historical numbers point in the direction of Kyle Whittingham's Utes, who hold a 4-1 edge in the series (2-0 in Salt Lake City) and are 4-0 all-time in games in which both they and the opponent are ranked. But the TCU defense is one of the nation's best, leading the country in rush defense and ranking second in total defense. Utah is no slouch either, boasting the country's seventh-best defense. But with many expecting the "Blackout" to be a success and the Utes to move that much closer to their second BCS berth (2004 Fiesta Bowl), I like QB Andy Dalton and the Horned Frogs to pull off another Thursday night upset.
Friday: Nevada @ Fresno State 9 PM on ESPN2
Thanks to the disappointing beginning of WAC play for Fresno State and the dominant play of Boise State, the Bulldogs' game with Nevada tomorrow is more about keeping their collective heads above water than winning the conference. The Bulldogs, who have already lost league games to Hawaii and Louisiana Tech, find themselves needing a win to become bowl eligible. So much for a team that some thought could be in the running for a BCS at-large spot back in August. Nevada has struggled as well, sitting at .500 with home games against San Jose State and Boise State on the horizon. These are two of the better offenses in the WAC (Nevada 1st, Fresno State 3rd), but both have been subpar on defense. Add to this Fresno's 1-2 record at home and you have the makings of a wild affair. The Bulldogs win a close one, but don't be surprised if the Wolf Pack grab the win.