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Utah Utes football: The eyes of the college football nation turn to Salt Lake City

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 5:35 a.m. MDT

ESPN's College Football GameDay is in town for the big game. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) ESPN's College Football GameDay is in town for the big game. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — This is big. Real big. In fact, it really doesn't get much bigger than this.

Saturday's game between Utah and TCU at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which pits two of the top five teams in the Bowl Championship Series standings, could have national title implications. The winner remains in the hunt.

Short of that, a BCS bowl berth and Mountain West Conference championship are likely on the line.

The implications are so huge, in fact, that it could easily go down as the biggest football game ever played in the state.

A standing-room only crowd, an overflowing press box and a national television audience will be on hand to watch the Utes (8-0) and Horned Frogs (9-0) square off.

"This is going to be a great Saturday and we're looking forward to it," said TCU coach Gary Patterson. "This is what football is all about."

Rice-Eccles Stadium (Don Green, Don Green) Rice-Eccles Stadium (Don Green, Don Green)

The stakes are high. So, too, are the expectations. Will the game live up to its billing?

"Odds are it's going to come down to four or five momentum, changing-impact, type of plays," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "If you can make a majority of those plays, then you've got a good chance to win the game."

The turnover margin, he added, is always huge in a game like this.

"I don't think we have to play a perfect game. We've got to bring our 'A' game, and we've got to play very well," Whittingham explained. "Last year we were far from that. Last year we played awful in this game."

Utah dropped a 55-28 decision at TCU in 2009. The Utes never challenged after falling behind 35-7 in the first half.

Rice-Eccles Stadium (Don Green, Don Green) Rice-Eccles Stadium (Don Green, Don Green)

It was a vast departure from the four previous MWC meetings, which were decided by a total of 26 points and included an overtime game.

"Last year is on everyone's mind. TCU played a great game and won decisively," Whittingham said. "But our guys are excited to play them this year."

Patterson, too, is expecting more of a battle this time around.

"This is going to be a 60-minute game. It's always been that way. Fortunately last year we made some plays and got up early," he said. "But as a general rule that's not the way this game has gone down. And so for us, I think it's a big game coming down to special teams."

That was certainly the case in 2008 when TCU missed a pair of close field-goal attempts and Utah capitalized with a game-winning touchdown drive in the closing minutes. The Utes prevailed 13-10 on a touchdown pass from Brian Johnson to Freddie Brown in the final minute.

Rice-Eccles Stadium (Don Green, Don Green) Rice-Eccles Stadium (Don Green, Don Green)

Johnson, who now coaches Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, has spoken to the starter about the possibility of another tight finish.

"We talked about how it could definitely come down to something like that. Especially a game with two great teams like this," Wynn said. "You've got to be prepared to come back from behind or hold them off. Whatever it takes. You've got to kind of be prepared for everything."

It would be nice to win handily, he added, but "it's probably going to come down to the wire."

TCU's lopsided win over Utah a year ago in Fort Worth hasn't altered Patterson's view of the series. He's not surprised the Utes are still undefeated.

"I knew what kind of football team they had coming back," Patterson said while noting Utah's returnees. "We know what we are heading in to. We understand what kind of football team they have."

ESPN's College Football GameDay, left, and reporter Erin Andrews, right, are in town for the big game. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) ESPN's College Football GameDay, left, and reporter Erin Andrews, right, are in town for the big game. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

As such, he added, it's too bad one of the teams has got to lose "because both teams are having great seasons."

MWC showdown

No. 4 TCU (9-0) vs. No. 6 Utah (8-0)

Today, 1:30 p.m.

TV: CBS C

Radio: 700 AM

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company