When it comes to having an up and down season, no other team may mirror Utah quite like TCU. This Thursday, when the two meet, they will enter the game with identical records and the chance to really make something of their season. A loss will eliminate either from conference contention, while a victory could position them for a late season run. But how Utah and TCU got here is strikingly familiar.
Both Utah and TCU entered the 2007 season with high hopes of recapturing the Mountain West title. The Frogs did it in their inaugural year in 2005 and Utah did it a year prior, under former head coach Urban Meyer. Yet they were plagued by similar issues, the loss of a key player.
Utah lost Brian Johnson in its first game of the season, while TCU's Tommy Blake left the team because of an undisclosed illness and still hasn't returned. That absence has hurt the Frogs, as they limped out to a 3-3 record before Saturday night's victory over Stanford. Like Utah, TCU seems to have gotten their act together at just the right moment, staging what could be a wild finish in the Mountain West race.
Of course, like Utah, they haven't been able to sustain any type of success. TCU opened the season with a fairly impressive defensive win over Baylor, before melting down in the second half against Texas. They followed up that loss with a shocking defeat at Air Force, rebounded for victories against SMU and Colorado State, only to lose to Wyoming the next week. That leads TCU into Thursday's game looking for any traction. That sounds familiar, as Utah has pretty much seen similar results.
This game means a lot for both teams and could be the difference maker for either of their seasons. A Utah victory will most likely set up a run that could position the Utes for a chance at the MWC crown when they play BYU in November. A loss will probably doom them to a record of no better than 7-5. Likewise, TCU could use this win as a launching point to another 10-win campaign under Gary Patterson. A loss, however, most likely means no better than a 7-5 finish for the Frogs.
This is going to be a tough game, but Utah has shown some great ability to get up for big games in the past. They'll need that effort, and more, if they are going to beat TCU on the road. I expect a defensive battle, but I do believe Utah has more offensive fire power than the Frogs. If Brian Johnson doesn't turn the ball over and Mack can continue to dominate on the ground, I really feel good about Utah's chances. Now let's hope they take advantage of those chances and roll to victory.