FORT WORTH, Texas — No one involved saw it coming.
Andy Dalton, for one, was glad that TCU stormed out to a big, early lead and coasted past Utah last season in front of the largest crowd in Amon G. Carter Stadium history. But he didn't foresee a 55-28 victory.
"We weren't expecting that game to go exactly like it did," said Dalton, who will lead the No. 4 Horned Frogs (9-0, 5-0 Mountain West) into Salt Lake City on Saturday for a showdown against the sixth-ranked Utes (8-0, 5-0).
The implications couldn't be any greater. The winner will be in the driver's seat for the MWC title, and more importantly, will remain in the BCS title conversation, as TCU is No. 3, while Utah is fifth.
Both coaches expect the game to be more like the 2008 showdown in which the Utes scored a touchdown with less than a minute left to win 13-10.
"We've had a good run at home," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team has won 21 straight at Rice-Eccles Stadium. "It's a real credit to our fans and the atmosphere they bring to the stadium."
Utes fans will be decked out in black for a "Black Out," as they were for the Thursday night matchup in 2008. The Utes will wear special black Under Armour uniforms with camouflage flair for the Wounded Warrior Project, which lends support to injured servicemen and servicewomen.
Dalton clearly remembers the Black Out in 2008. He's hoping the 1:30 p.m. start time hinders its effect.
"The way their fans get into the game, they are loud, noisy and obnoxious," Dalton said. "They do a great job, especially when we're on offense. The fans have really bought into everything."
Whittingham acknowledged the advantage but wondered whether it would be enough.
"They are an exceptional football team," he said of the Frogs. "They are extremely well-coached, and I believe they are even better than they were last year.
"(Playing at home) certainly is an advantage for us. Now, will it be enough? We'll find out on Saturday. That was a great atmosphere and environment, and the crowd had a lot to do with the outcome of that game (two years ago)."
For TCU coach Gary Patterson, the pain from that 2008 loss still resonates.
"I don't think you can come close to expressing in words how the kids felt in 2008," Patterson said.
But neither team owns the motivational edge, Patterson said. Utah would love to avenge last year's loss in Fort Worth. TCU would love to nab its first victory in Salt Lake City in the final meeting between the two schools before Utah moves to the Pac-10.
Patterson, like Whittingham, acknowledges those story lines, but says once the game starts it's all about right now.
"(The past matters) until the whistle blows, and then the game's on," Patterson said. "Then you find out who brought the most energy. Unless I'm wrong, I think it's going to be one of those 60-minute games again."
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