I have to admit, Thursday night football isn't my favorite thing. Mostly because I've just got other stuff going on when Thursday night rolls around and I always find myself joining the action midway through the first half. Even then, it's hard to stay committed, what with flipping back and forth between the game and The Office. Since the early days of Seinfeld, I have been conditioned to watch things other than football on Thursday nights, and that's not likely to change. So, while I appreciate the efforts of the schools and the television networks, I prefer my football on Saturday afternoons, thank you, very much.
But tonight at 8 p.m. I'm going to make an exception. Tonight, you see, presents a game worthy of my undivided attention. First and foremost, it's a matchup of highly ranked teams. It's also a do-or-die situation -- which is the ne plus ultra of reasons why college football's regular season just beats the short pants off of the snooze-fest that is the NFL schedule. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you No. 11 TCU at No. 10 Utah. The Frogs vs. the Utes. This game is only being broadcast on the CBS College Sports Network, necessitating a trip to the corner drinking hole for many folks. But here are five reasons why you should make the extra effort and tune in:
1. The defense will never rest: Tonight's game will showcase two of the top defensive teams in the country. Of the 119 teams in Division I-A, the Horned Frogs (214.5 yards per game) and the Utes (266.2) rank second and seventh, respectively, in total defense. As well, TCU ranks third in the country in scoring D (surrendering just 10.8 points per game), while Utah is 18th (17.7). The prediction here, though, is that the Frogs have a better chance to dominate this game. They lead the nation in rushing defense (38.9 yards per game) and sacks (38). And their turnover margin of +15 ranks them No. 3. Gary Patterson and TCU always seem to have an elite defense, and it could be the difference in tonight's game.
2. Jerry Hughes: The former high school tailback has matured into one of the country's dominant defensive ends. Hughes leads the country with 14 sacks and five forced fumbles -- you may remember the 6-foot-2, 248-pound junior's strength in these categories from his dominant performance in the Horned Frogs' 32-7 trouncing of BYU, when he sacked Cougars quarterback Max Hall four times and forced two fumbles. The quick and athletic Hughes is a prime-time player, and if he asserts himself tonight, it could be a long game for Utah.
3. Brian Johnson: One of the most interesting things to watch tonight will be how well Johnson, the Utes' senior quarterback, stands up to the rush that's sure to come from Hughes and the TCU defensive front. If the Frogs can get pressure with the front four while dropping seven men into coverage, things could get difficult for the 6-1, 200-pound Johnson, who last week became the winningest quarterback in school history. A gifted runner with an accurate arm -- he's currently completing 66.7 percent of his passes -- Johnson's play is likely to be the difference in this game.
4. And if it's a shootout?: For as dominant as they are on defense, the Frogs don't have much room for error tonight. The TCU offense, though it's averaging more than 36 points a game, isn't as explosive as Utah's. The Utes are capable of great things -- witness their comeback win over Oregon State on Oct. 2, when they scored 11 points in the final two minutes to pull out a 31-28 victory. Johnson was nothing short of marvelous at the end, passing for a 25-yard touchdown, and then running for the two-point conversion. If he proves hard to contain tonight, it will be hard indeed for the Horned Frogs to outscore the Utes.
5. The brink of elimination: With only one BCS slot likely to be available to mid-major schools -- no matter how many of them finish in the top 12 -- winning tonight is crucial. The loser will be out of luck. With Boise State (BCS No. 10) cruising through another undefeated season (a season-ending date with Fresno State seems to be the Broncos' only serious obstacle), tonight's victor will keep its Cinderella hopes alive. Utah (BCS No. 8) currently ranks ahead of Boise State, while TCU (No. 12) is just behind. Tonight's winner is likely to come out of the game with the highest ranking of any non-BCS school, and that's the season-ending tiebreaker between two or more eligible mid-majors.