SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -Welcome to the BCS Buster playoffs.
When No. 11 TCU visits No. 10 Utah on Thursday night, the winner is assured of staying alive for at least another week in the Bowl Championship Series sweepstakes. The loser can start making other postseason plans.
``It's everything you want. It's what you coach for,'' TCU coach Gary Patterson said. ``Now we are in a situation where you see in three hours who can score one more point.''
Most other seasons, the focus on this game would be the Mountain West Conference championship. The Utes (9-0, 5-0) and Horned Frogs (9-1, 6-0) are the only teams left without a league loss and the winner will have the inside track for the outright conference title.
er of bowls. The series only hands out one berth to a non-BCS conference school, and with Boise State of the Western Athletic Conference still in contention, a loss at this point would end any hope.
``It's like you have finals and then you've got vacation,'' Patterson said. ``All you think about is you've got to get to finals to get vacation. Vacation is the No. 1 priority, but you know what? Vacation is not going to be a lot of fun if you flunk all your finals.''
TCU hasn't flunked anything this season. The Horned Frogs' only loss was 35-10 to Oklahoma, which is respectable considering the sixth-ranked Sooners average almost 50 points per game. The only other team to hold Oklahoma to so few points was Texas in a 45-35 win for the Longhorns.
The Frogs have already taken out one potential BCS Buster with a 32-7 win over BYU three weeks ago. TCU held BYU to just 297 yards of offense, including 23 yards rushing.
``They're just tearing it up on defense. I don't know if I've seen a defense play as well as they have,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ``You name it, they're doing it on defense. That is very impressive, what they've been able to do.''
Utah is the original BCS Buster and is trying to be the first school to sneak in one of the big-money games twice. TCU is trying to be the first to earn a berth despite losing a game.
The speculation about who could be this year's BCS Buster has been building throughout the season, especially after TCU's win over BYU.
Although the BCS bylaws are complicated, Utah's route to getting there is simple. Stay unbeaten and the Utes, who are No. 8 in the BCS standings, can get the automatic berth.
``We control what we can control. Go out and win football games and let the rest take care of itself,'' quarterback Bryan Johnson said.
Utah is expecting Rice-Eccles Stadium to be packed Thursday night, despite a winter storm that hit Salt Lake City and covered the foothills above campus in white. Utah is encouraging fans to wear black and will hand out 35,000 black rally towels.
The Utes are also expected to debut black uniforms instead of their usual red. It's a move that didn't work well for Georgia earlier this season when Alabama beat the black-clad Bulldogs 41-30, but the Utes are trying to create a special atmosphere for the game.
Although with everything on the line, wardrobes won't matter much.
``It's pretty much the conference championship game, if you think about it,'' TCU linebacker Jason Phillips said. ``It's definitely a lot of fun to play when you know there's a lot of people watching and you have a big audience.''
least a share of the Mountain West title with a win Thursday. The Frogs don't play again until they host Air Force on Nov. 22.
Utah still has San Diego State next week, then No. 17 BYU at home in a rivalry game that will be even bigger if there are still BCS implications.
``I don't even think about the BCS. We're just trying to find a way to beat TCU,'' Whittingham said. ``You only worry about what you can control and we obviously have no control over that other than try to win games each week.''

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