TCU (12-0), Boise State (13-0) to meet
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Welcome to the BCS Buster Bowl.
TCU (No. 4 BCS, No. 3 AP) and No. 6 Boise State will meet in the Fiesta Bowl, marking the first time a BCS game other than the championship game has a matchup of unbeaten teams.
It's also the first time two teams from conferences without automatic bids to the BCS have played in the five big-money bowls in the same season.
Mountain West champion TCU (12-0) earned an automatic bid to break into the BCS for the first time in school history.
Western Athletic Conference champ Boise State (13-0) became the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to receive an at-large bid.
"We think it's a matchup that's credible," Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker said. "If there was a glass ceiling, we think we've taken a chunk out of it."
The Horned Frogs and Broncos played in the Poinsettia Bowl last season. TCU won 17-16 to hand Boise State its only loss of the season.
This time, the so-called little guys will move their tussle to the big stage -- and Junker said the Fiesta didn't mind staging a rematch, which he said got a thumbs-up from TV partner Fox.
"We're not the NFL," he said. "There's new players, new stories, new energy. These are two teams that have been atop the rankings all year long, and we're very excited for a chance to match them."
They might want to roll back the roof at Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 4, because the game should provide plenty of offensive fireworks.
Boise State has the nation's highest-scoring attack, averaging 44.1 points per game. TCU ranks fourth at 40.7 points per game.
For a few hours on Saturday night, it looked as if the Horned Frogs might slip into the BCS title game. No. 3 Texas found itself in a protracted defensive struggle with No. 21 Nebraska in the Big 12 playoff, and a Longhorns loss may have cleared the way for TCU to become the first school from a non-automatic qualifying conference to play for the national title.
But Texas pulled out a 13-12 victory, stunning the Cornhuskers and TCU coach Gary Patterson.
"I had to walk outside. ... I didn't even say anything," Patterson said. "I got up. ... I walked out in my bare feet, walked down the street, it was cold and I didn't even feel it. What else was I going to do. I had the same feeling when Utah scored at the end of the game a year ago (a 13-10 Frogs loss while Utah went on to be BCS buster). You get so close, but yet you're so far away."
It might not have mattered because unbeaten Cincinnati finished ahead of TCU in the final standings anyway.
The Horned Frogs, 12-0 for the first time, will settle for a trip to the desert for their BCS debut.
Patterson told his team it can still play for The Associated Press national championship. It's a long shot, because the Horned Frogs are third in the latest AP Top 25, behind Texas and Alabama, which are meeting in the BCS title game.
"That's what I told them, I said our whole deal is we're going to have to show the nation in this next bowl game that we belong, that we're one of the top two teams in the nation," Patterson said. "You can still win the AP, so that's what our whole goal is within the next month, to try to get ourself against a very good opponent, which is going to be hard to do anyway because they're a very good opponent."
TCU chews up 265.5 yards rushing, fifth nationally. Quarterback Andy Dalton ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency, with 22 TDs and only five interceptions in 279 pass attempts.
Boise State players, parents and fans gathered in the new press box at Bronco Stadium to watch the bowl selection show.
The crowd erupted when the pairing was announced. But moments later, the crowd reacted with much less enthusiasm when TCU was announced as the Broncos' foe. Bronco fans had been hoping for a matchup with a Big Ten team like Iowa or Penn State.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen said he wasn't disappointed to face the Frogs.
"We got what we wanted," Petersen said. "We're playing a great opponent. With tough opponents there is great opportunity.
"I just think there is so much respect out there for TCU," Petersen said. "People say they should be playing in the national championship game. Maybe they should. I think that just adds to the excitement for us."
The Broncos will make their second Fiesta Bowl appearance in four years. Most fans distinctly recall their first trip.
In January 2007, the eighth-ranked Broncos used a passel of trick plays to stun 10th-ranked Oklahoma in a game still regarded as one of the great bowls in college football history. Afterward, tailback Ian Johnson proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend, giving the Fiesta Bowl an indelible image of the underdog-as-conqueror.
The Broncos are led by quarterback Kellen Moore, the nation's top-rated passer.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press