FORT WORTH, Texas — With a perfect ending in the Mountain West Conference, TCU is in position to possibly bust into the BCS again.
Greg McCoy returned a kickoff 99 yards and Kris Gardner had a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 12-second span, and the 18th-ranked Horned Frogs beat UNLV 56-9 Saturday to clinch their third consecutive outright and undefeated Mountain West championship.
Waymon James, Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley all ran for touchdowns for TCU (10-2, 7-0 MWC), which won its last 24 games in that league before moving to the Big 12 Conference next season. Casey Pachall and Matt Brown both scored on quarterback keepers on the rain-soaked field.
The consecutive TD returns by McCoy and Gardner just before halftime came about the same time Southern Miss was wrapping up a 49-28 victory at previously undefeated Houston in the Conference USA championship game.
If the Frogs move up two spots into the top 16 of the final Bowl Championship Series standings Sunday, they will be virtually guaranteed of going to their third consecutive BCS game, even with two losses.
Any champion from a non-automatic qualifying conference is guaranteed a BCS berth by finishing in the top 16 and higher than a champion from a league with an automatic BCS berth.
TCU is already higher in the BCS standings than West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville, the co-champions of the Big East, the league the Frogs were going to join before opting for the Big 12 instead.
Southern Miss is 24th in the latest BCS standings, six spots behind TCU. Houston was sixth and would have been in one of the big games with a C-USA title. It was Southern Miss that knocked the Horned Frogs out of BCS contention late in the 2003 season.
The regular season finale was the last game for 19 TCU seniors, a class that won a school-record 46 games and was part of the Frogs' win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last January that wrapped up a 13-0 regular season and a No. 2 final ranking. They went to the school's first-ever BCS game two years ago, losing the Fiesta Bowl to Boise State after an undefeated regular season.
TCU has its fourth straight 10-win season under coach Gary Patterson, who is 108-30 in his 11 seasons.
UNLV (2-10, 1-6) led 3-0 after Nolan Kohorst kicked a 39-yard field goal with 5:35 left in the first quarter before TCU scored 21 unanswered points.
Pachall dropped back to pass, then tucked and ran straight forward for an 8-yard touchdown, plunging through two defenders to get into the end zone. James had a 10-yard TD run, when he went to the right sideline, planted his right foot and then lunged forward with his left hand extended holding the football.
Then on the first play after Deryck Gildon blocked a punt, Tucker took a handoff and scored on a 32-yard run when at least five defenders got their hands on him without bringing him down.
After Kohorst kicked a 43-yard field goal with 2:13 left in the first half, McCoy and Gardner followed with their big plays for a 35-6 halftime lead.
McCoy, who already had a kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this season, backpedaled to field the ball just in front of the goal line and then took off. He ran through a group of players on the left side before breaking into the open and sprinting all the way down the field.Comment on this story
When the Rebels got the ball back, senior linebacker Gardner picked off a pass by Taylor Barnhill and went untouched into the end zone.
James scored on a 2-yard run to cap TCU's opening drive of the second half, and Wesley later had a 9-yard run.
The Rebels finished the season with a five-game losing streak and are 4-21 in two seasons under coach Bobby Hauck. Before coming to UNLV, Hauck sent seven years at Montana, where he had an 80-17 record and led the Grizzlies to three FCS championship games.