- Ivan Maisel, College Football Senior Writer
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- If the question coming into Saturday night centered on No. 4 TCU's worthiness as a BCS bowl candidate, the Horned Frogs made you feel stupid for asking it. TCU pounded No. 16 Utah with a 38-point first half and cruised to a 55-28 victory.
But if the question coming out of Saturday night centers upon how the Horned Frogs can push any higher, perhaps even into the top two, the answer won't be found on this giddy campus. The Horned Frogs know that one of the teams ranked above them, either No. 1 Florida or No. 2 Alabama, will lose on Dec. 5.
Their problem is they need two teams to lose. For instance, if Texas A&M were to upset No. 3 Texas?
"That would work out pretty well for us," TCU quarterback Andy Dalton said, a sly smile spreading below that bright red hair.
Dalton made sure to say that out of earshot of coach Gary Patterson, who wants his team to focus on its two remaining ne'er-do-wells, Wyoming and New Mexico. Patterson brought up 2005 of his own volition.
"I've been there," he said. "I've beaten Oklahoma and gotten beat by SMU."
But Patterson could be prodded only so many times about the national race without responding. Finally, he said, "If this wasn't enough style points, I don't know what is."
Style may have been a theme Saturday night. TCU wore its new uniforms, a mix of purple, dark gray and a splash of red. But the new look that blew away the Horned Frogs wasn't what they saw in the mirror. It was the 50,307 people in the stands -- more people than have filled Amon G. Carter Stadium in its 79-year history.
Legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins, a TCU grad and loyal fan, pointed across the field at the packed student section from his 50-yard-line seat and said, "I haven't seen that in a long time."
As the teams lined up for the opening kickoff, Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson looked out on the field and said, "This is what we're trying to build."
The Horned Frogs gave the fans exactly what they wanted but couldn't have hoped to see.
How could anyone expect to blow out a team that has won 22 of its past 23 games, a team that has won three of four in this series? It's not as if TCU put on this show against a Baylor or -- say it, say it -- a USC. The Horned Frogs did this to a team that came in 8-1, the lone loss coming at No. 13 Oregon.
"I have been a head coach for five years," Utah's Kyle Whittingham said, "and that is the best team I've faced."
The scariest thing about TCU's performance -- 549 yards of total offense, 32 first downs and a recital by defensive end Jerry Hughes, a Lombardi Award finalist -- is that 55-28 is about as close as this game could have been.
The Horned Frogs frittered away two trips into the red zone in the first half. The TCU defense kept alive a Utah touchdown drive in the third quarter when linebacker Daryl Washington drew a personal foul blow to the head. Tailback Joe Turner lost a fumble (his third of the game) in the fourth quarter at the Utah 29.
Yet this game tipped to one side, the home side, early and never changed.
The Utes capitalized on a 14-yard shanked punt and drove 43 yards to tie the score at 7 late in the first quarter. Looking back, Utah never should have done that. It must have made Hughes angry. The next time Utah made a first down, it trailed 35-7.
Take the Utes' first possession after their touchdown, three plays in which Hughes got in on every tackle. On first down, he lit up running back Eddie Wide behind the line for a loss of 2 yards.
On second down, Wide caught a ball in the flat and started up the sideline. Hughes raced over and stopped him after a gain of 5.
On third down, Hughes looped around the right tackle and sacked Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn for a loss of 4.
"I did?" asked Hughes, who finished with 2½ tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. "I had no idea I was doing that."
On fourth down, Hughes rested. Teammate Greg Burks, however, smothered the punt off Sean Sellwood's foot, and TCU took over possession at the Utah 23. Four plays later, a touchdown.
TCU followed that with a 29-yard touchdown drive set up by Jeremy Kerley's 39-yard punt return, and a 15-yard touchdown "drive," that being the distance that middle linebacker Tank Carder returned a pass that Wynn telegraphed right into his hands.
That made it pretty much that. When the game ended, TCU students rushed the field. They wore a lot of purple. It worked.
"I told them how we would play if they were all in purple," Patterson said, "and we played like that tonight."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.
TCU answered all of its critics' questions with a drubbing of No. 16 Utah on Saturday. But the Frogs' future is out of their hands.