The most important game in the history of the Mountain West Conference feels more like a grand finale than the start of something big.
When No. 4 TCU plays at No. 6 Utah it will be the first time in the league’s 11-year history that it will have a matchup of top-10 teams. It’s a game with national title and BCS implications.
Sure, there are ranked teams squaring off against each other Saturday in the Big 12, Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, but none of those games have as much at stake as the one going on in Salt Lake City.
The Horned Frogs and Utes have become the MWC’s marquee programs, each with a BCS appearance the past two seasons. Their accomplishments are exhibit A in commissioner Craig Thompson’s fight for an automatic BCS bid for his conference.
But come next season Utah will in the Pac-12 and its in-state rival, BYU, which is in a down year but has been the league’s third-best program, is going independent. TCU is a prime candidate to be scooped up by the Big East. That’s far from a done deal, but it would surprise no one if it happened.
In the past year, Thompson has tried to bulk up the MWC and create a league the BCS hierarchy could not ignore.
Boise State comes on board next season and two of its Western Athletic Conference rivals, Nevada and Fresno State, will join the MWC in 2012.
But subtract Utah, BYU and maybe even TCU, and add Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State, and the Mountain West Conference is no closer to being the seventh BCS automatic qualifying league than it is now.
In fact, when the shuffling comes to an end, the MWC might be even further away from its goals.
And by then, Saturday’s monster game between the Horned Frogs and Utes might mark the end of the conference’s Golden Era.
Georgia Tech (plus 13) at No. 20 Virginia Tech — As the rest of the ACC Coastal crumbles, Hokies emerge as favorites ... VIRGINIA TECH 35-20.
Washington (plus 35) at No. 1 Oregon — Even with Jake Locker, Huskies are in for a world of trouble ... OREGON 58-14.
Hawaii (plus 21) at No. 2 Boise State — Broncos are 8-1 against Warriors ... BOISE STATE 45-21.
Chattanooga (no line) at No. 3 Auburn — Better than an off week for Tigers ... AUBURN 55-0.
No. 4 TCU (minus 4½) at No. 6 Utah — TCU’s last regular-season loss and road loss came at Rice-Eccles in 2008 ... TCU 28-21.
No. 5 Alabama (minus 6) at No. 12 LSU — Is Tide still vulnerable? Maybe ... ALABAMA 21-17.
No. 7 Wisconsin (minus 20) at Purdue — Badgers average 35.6 points per game, on pace to set a school record ... WISCONSIN 38-14.
No. 9 Nebraska (minus 19) at Iowa State — Cornhuskers had school-record eight turnovers in loss to Cyclones last year .... NEBRASKA 45-17.
No. 13 Arizona (plus 9½) at No. 10 Stanford — Wildcats could creep into national title picture if they keep winning ... STANFORD 31-23.
No. 11 Oklahoma (minus 3½) at Texas A&M — Sooners have won seven straight vs. Aggies, scored 173 points in last three ... OKLAHOMA 35-28.
No. 14 Missouri (minus 4) at Texas Tech — Tigers take aim at worst defense in Big 12 ... MISSOURI 38-28.
No. 15 Iowa (plus 17) at Indiana — Ricky Stanzi is nation’s second-most efficient passer ... IOWA 49-14.
Minnesota (plus 24) at No. 16 Michigan State — Spartans still in prime contention for BCS bid ... MICHIGAN STATE 41-10.
No. 17 Arkansas (plus 3) at No. 18 South Carolina — Ryan Mallett should find Gamecocks’ pass defense appealing ... ARKANSAS 31-27.
No. 22 Baylor (plus 7) at No. 19 Oklahoma State — Last time Baylor had seven victories entering November was 1985 ... OKLAHOMA STATE 45-35.
No. 23 North Carolina State (plus 3) at Clemson — Tigers have won six straight against Wolfpack ... N.C. STATE 27-21.
North Carolina (plus 10) at No. 24 Florida State — Even as a few players return, hope fades for Tar Heels ... FLORIDA STATE 28-10.
No. 25 Nevada (minus 11½) at Idaho — Wolf Pack is 5-0 in WAC games against Vandals, averaging 53 points ... NEVADA 38-28.
Last week — 12-5 (straight); 8-8 (vs. points).
Season — 124-38 (straight); 78-78-3 (vs. points).
Best bets — 3-2. Upset specials: 2-3.