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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Believe it, handicapped TCU can play with anyone

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SALT LAKE CITY -- I've seen Oregon in person and Auburn in person, which means I know how the perceived best look. So I can tell you with a degree of certainty that the people who think TCU can't play with those two powers from those two power leagues are either stupid, stuck-up or one of the men making money off the BCS.

Trust me, Gary Patterson's team can play with anybody.

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They would beat the hell out of most.

"Gary Patterson has something special there," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "They are an exceptionally high-quality football team."

TCU walked into a "blackout" Saturday at Utah and nearly pitched a shutout, crushing the Utes 47-7 in a battle of unbeaten teams that was as anticipated as it was lopsided. The Horned Frogs led 20-0 after the first quarter, 23-0 at halftime and 37-0 heading into the fourth, at which point the Utes' offense still hadn't crossed midfield.

Seriously.

This Utah program that entered Saturday at No. 5 in the BCS and with a 21-game winning streak here at Rice-Eccles Stadium didn't so much as cross midfield until less than 13 minutes remained. It was the kind of performance for TCU that should quiet any and all critics, but, naturally, it won't. Rather, it'll just lead to various "experts" -- the same "experts" who incorrectly predict games every weekend on television but are somehow certain of exactly what TCU (and Boise State, for that matter) could and could not do -- suggesting the blowout proves nothing more than that Utah was overrated because, sadly, that's the way this stuff works.

If an SEC team beats a top 10 opponent, it's a great win.

If a MWC or WAC team does it, it means the opponent was overrated.

"That's nothing we can focus on," said TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, who completed 21 of 26 passes for 355 yards and three scores. "Utah was the No. 5 team in the nation."

TCU's Corey Fuller and Waymon James celebrate after James scores on a fumble recovery. (AP)  
TCU's Corey Fuller and Waymon James celebrate after James scores on a fumble recovery. (AP)  
Exactly.

But that won't be how BCS snobs see it.

Either way, the nice thing for the Horned Frogs is that while they were doing postgame interviews, LSU and its grass-eating coach aided their cause. Because of this screwy system, it was never going to be enough for TCU, ranked third in the BCS, to finish the regular season undefeated for the second successive year while leading the nation in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense, fewest first downs allowed and opponents' third-down percentage. For the Horned Frogs to play for the BCS title, they are always going to need help from others, and they got some of that help in the form of LSU's 24-21 victory against Alabama that eliminated the Crimson Tide from title contention.

That's the good news for the Horned Frogs.

The bad news, of course, is that they need more help.

They need Alabama to beat Auburn. Or somebody to beat Oregon. And there's always unbeaten Boise State to worry about, too. It's all so frustrating and plainly ridiculous, this BCS system that features a scenario where TCU can win every game it plays, beat the britches off folks, and still need help from outsiders to actually compete for a national championship. Alas, that's where we are as we enter the final stretch of the regular season, but don't expect Patterson to start politicking just yet.

"I think there's going to be a lot of people who do that for me," he said. "I'm just going to try and win football games."

In a perfect world -- or even a fair one that wasn't rigged against schools outside of the traditional power structure -- that might be enough. But it's important to remember that it has never been enough for a non-BCS team -- not the Tulane team that went undefeated in 1998, the Marshall team that went undefeated in 1999, the Utah team that went undefeated in 2004, the Boise State team that went undefeated in 2006, the Utah team that went undefeated in 2008, the Boise State team that went undefeated in 2009, so on and so forth.

Will it be enough for TCU this season?

Again, it depends on what happens with Auburn, Oregon and, possibly, Boise State. But this much is clear: If the top teams win out, Auburn and Oregon will play for the national championship, and an unbeaten TCU team will be stuck playing in some other relatively meaningless bowl, just like last season. Back then, receiver Jeremy Kerley said he and his teammates "weren't too upset" with being left out because it was their "first BCS bowl game." But he told me Saturday that this year is different.

"Yeah," Kerley said. "I'd have to say that I'd be upset."

As well he should.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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