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The Consensus: TCU is a Top 25 Team/Will Win the Mountain West

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What everybody thinks this summer, non-obvious division...
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Granted, top 25 criteria are notoriously unregulated, subjective exercises - are we talking power polling, or a practical assessment of where a team will actually finish in the final polls or what? - but whatever it is, TCU's got it across the board:

The Chorus:

Phil Steele:

TCU has not allowed a 100 yard rushr in 20 games...They have had FIVE top 25 finished in the last seven years! While the Frogs must play both Texas and BYU on the road, I give them a solid shot at another 11-1 season and they are my pick to win the MWC. (Top 25: #23)

The Sporting News:

A game against Texas means TCU's quest for a big-boy bowl almost certainly will be denied again. But TCU's always-strong defense almost guarantees a perfect run through the Mountain West. (Top 25: #20)

Athlon:

Things are good at TCU...That's what 11 wins in three of the last four seasons can do. That success also creates expectations. Patterson prefers his team to be unranked and out-of-mind, but as long as they keep winning, the Frogs will be listening to preseason hype for seasons to come. A spot in the BCS is within reach... (Top 25: #25)

Street and Smith's:

Could TCU be the next Boise State?
[...]
Whether or not they get to the BCS may depend on a lot of factors, but this much is certain: TCU is the team to beat in the MWC. With BYU and Utah having to play unproven people at quarterback, it's hard to imagine anyone seriously challenging the Horned Frogs for the top spot. Top 25: #23)

Lindy's:

While TCU has spent most of the decade knocking loudly, the BCS door was eventually kicked in, first by Utah and then more spectacularly by Boise State. This time, the Horned Frogs could finally be the ones busting up the joint.
[...]
TCU should smother its MWC opponents, and that will be the key. If the only blemish on the schedule is a loss at Texas ... well, the polls should be forgiving -- how about the computers? The Frogs need to finish No. 12 or better for a certain BCS spot. (Top 25: #15)

The Dissent:

Nunca.
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TCU partisans could rightly object to two of the preceding assumptions: that their team's status in the top 25 is not "obvious" - as Steele notes, it's finished there with double digit wins four of the last five years, and in 2000, as well - and that playing Texas means certain doom for a shot at a "big boy bowl" (even I'm a little put off by the condescension in that line). They're not likely to view it as a coincidence that Oklahoma had its worst offensive performance of the past two years in the `05 opener, a 17-10 TCU win in Norman, or that Texas Tech had its lowest-scoring effort (3 points) in Mike Leach's tenure last year in Fort Worth, and because basically the entire defense is back, healthy, also not likely to see the trip down to Austin as pessimistically as the rest of us.

But then, the state of Utah might equally object to the concession that its teams - each of which has its turn running through the Mountain West in the last three years, too - should be "smothered" and unable even in the writer's imagination to "seriously challenge" last year's runner-up, a team that lost to BYU and Utah by two touchdowns apiece in consecutive weeks. In consecutive weeks in 2005, the Utes and Cougars fell to the eventual league champs by, respectively, a field goal and a failed two-point conversion, both in overtime. If you want to play round robin with the league's Big Three during the Frogs' first two seasons in the MWC, all three teams are 2-2 against the other two, with three of the six games decided in OT and another (BYU-Utah last year) by two points on an improbable touchdown pass at the gun; only TCU's two losses last year didn't go to the final snap. Gary Patterson, after last year's home loss to the Cougars, questioned his team's ability to "handle success." This seems fairly egalitarian for such unanimity, to say nothing of terms like "smothered."


If you played here, you'd know: Mountain West pimpin' ain't easy.
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Those schools' "unproven people at quarterback" - at Utah that's 2005 starter and unanimous preseason all-MWC pick Brian Johnson, who obliterated Alex Smith's sophomore production by accounting for almost 3,400 total yards and 26 touchdowns in ten games before suffering the injury that led to last year's optional redshirt (he still practiced with the scout team), and hyped Arizona State transfer Max Hall at BYU, back from a mission and a year behind prolific John Beck - have passed at least the trials faced to date by dueling Frog quarterbacks Marcus Jackson, a sophomore, and redshirt freshman Andy Dalton. For his experience, versatility and efficiency (9 TDs, 0 INTs in TCU's last six games), low-key Jeff Ballard conceivably leaves a mandate in his system that rivals Beck's in his. TCU's unrelenting defense has a better than even chance in finding its counterpart in the Utes' offense, which already rivaled the Frogs' as the most balanced in the conference and with Johnson and every contributor aside from the right tackle back has every right to push its scoring average back over 30 points. BYU was the only MWC team that broke that threshold last year, and as the defending champs return more starters altogether than either of the other perceived challengers - and hosts both of them - it's no reach to put their impending second-place status solely on the attrition from Beck to Hall.

Most of this, actually, is duly acknowledged; "it would not surprise" Steele if BYU repeated as conference champion, and TSN slips BYU into its last top 25 spot, too, just five below the favorites. No one - and this I find very hard to figure out - has remotely the same love for Utah, which to me looks like an oversight because the Utes happen to play both TCU and BYU on the road (and, where the overall rankings are concerned, also face Oregon State, UCLA and Louisville). None of the three has as great a potential liability as the Frogs have at quarterback, though none have anywhere near the trump card as TCU has across its entire defense; almost half the all-conference defense comes from that number. In that sense, as everyone predicts, TCU may just be better than the rest of the league. But where its bid for the upper echelon is concerned - and this depends so much on Max Hall, who along with Marcus Jackson holds the competitive fate of the entire conference in his hands - Texas is just the icing; the cake will still have to be made within the Mountain West.