FORT WORTH, Texas – The Wyoming Cowboys are making the long trip south to play the only ranked team in Texas.
No, not the Longhorns. Wyoming has already shown they could hang for a half with a Top 10 team in Austin, though the Cowboys faded in a 34-7 loss to Texas last month — before the Longhorns fell from the rankings for the first time in a decade.
Now the Cowboys will try to do the same thing in Fort Worth, where No. 5 TCU is a 34-point favorite Saturday and the Frogs are generating talk that last year's BCS busters are more than the lone ranked team in Texas — they're the best in Texas.
"They have not got worse. I can tell you that from watching the video," said Wyoming coach Dave Christensen. "They've got a lot of experience on offense and defense. They're very athletic, and they'll be one of the best football teams we play."
That's saying something because the Cowboys (2-3, 0-1 Mountain West) are facing their third Top 10 opponent in six games. They lost to No. 4 Boise State 51-6 at home three weeks ago.
Not only that, but Wyoming might be leading the nation in frequent flier miles. This is their second thousand-mile trip to Texas, and it comes a week after traveling about 1,200 miles to Toledo, where the jet lag was offset by a 20-15 win.
"We've had an extremely difficult road that we've been taking against a number of top teams in the country, and so it was great to get a taste of victory and an opportunity to feel good after a game," Christensen said.
TCU (5-0, 1-0) is playing the first of three straight at home after a pair of closer-than-expected victories, including last week's 27-0 win at Colorado State when the Frogs led just 6-0 at halftime. The last time they were at home, the Frogs played their best game of the year — a 45-10 victory over Baylor when many figured the Bears were finally good enough to stay close.
Like it or not, TCU is playing the comparison game as it battles Boise State for a possible spot in the BCS championship game. And this is the second comparison game for the pair. The Frogs opened with a 30-21 win over Oregon State, and the Broncos beat the Beavers 37-24 three weeks later.
"I can't control the voters. I can't control how coaches feel," said TCU coach Gary Patterson. "All I can do is try to win ball games."
Patterson understands the scoreboard game, but the former defensive coordinator was excited about the first road shutout for the Frogs since 2000, his third season at TCU under the coach he later replaced, Dennis Franchione.
"The last three times we've gone to Colorado, we either lost or won by a very small margin," Patterson said. "Offensively, we still had our second highest yardage output of the season."
TCU quarterback Andy Dalton should be happy back at home, where he also played his best game of the year against the Bears. He completed 21 of 23 passes for 267 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, his only 200-yard game this year.
The winningest QB in school history had his worst game statistically in Colorado, going 11 of 24 for 109 yards and has just 907 yards and six touchdowns at nearly the halfway point of the season a year after he set his career highs with 2,756 passing yards and 23 TDs.
"Any way you look at it, he's still 5-0," Patterson said. "He didn't play very good (against Colorado State). He missed some reads and some throws, but the bottom line to it is we still had an unbelievable amount of yardage. We've got to score more."
Here's another way to look at Dalton's diminished numbers: The Frogs are running the ball like they did when LaDainian Tomlinson was in the backfield. Led by Ed Wesley's 497 yards, six touchdowns and 7.1 per-carry average, TCU is seventh nationally at 275 rushing yards per game — the highest since they averaged 275.6 yards in 2000, Tomlinson's final season.
"I don't think there's any secret they've got a lot of playmakers," Christensen said.
The Cowboys have their own issues on offense, ranking second-to-last nationally at 251 yards per game. They were held to 135 yards in the loss to Boise State and now face another strong TCU defense, ranked No. 3 nationally at 238 yards allowed per game.
"It's not too hard to figure out," Christensen said. "Execution is the problem. The plays are there. The design is there. The execution is not. So we keep working on it."