LAS VEGAS (AP) -- UNLV was in a similar spot in mid-September, a big underdog standing in the way of what Arizona State considered its game of the year.
The Sun Devils played as if they were more concerned about their showdown against Georgia the following week -- and the Rebels beat them 23-20 in overtime.
UNLV coach Mike Sanford said the Rebels were fortunate the media, Arizona State fans and the Sun Devils themselves anticipated an easy win.
Now here comes No. 12 Texas Christian, which has a potential Mountain West Conference showdown at No. 10 Utah on Thursday. It would be the game of the year for the Horned Frogs (8-1, 5-0 MWC), provided they don't look past 14-point underdog UNLV (3-5, 0-4) on Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium.
TCU coach Gary Patterson insisted his team is focused on the Rebels.
"This time of year you just try to find a way to win," Patterson said. "UNLV is a much better football than their record suggests."
UNLV took Brigham Young to the wire last week in a 42-35 loss. The Rebels also played close with Air Force and Colorado State.
"We've got to find a way to finish these games," UNLV coach Mike Sanford said.
"We've got a huge challenge ahead against TCU. Arguably, in my mind, the best defensive football team in the country. Very fast. Very athletic."
The stats back up Sanford's high opinion of the Horned Frogs. Led by defensive end Jerry Hughes, TCU is No.2 in the country in total defense (218 yards per game) and scoring defense (10.8 points per game).
The Frogs have plenty of reasons to take UNLV seriously. The Rebels are coming off back-to-back 400-yard games behind a quarterback, Omar Clayton, who is establishing himself as one of the league's best.
But if the Frogs beat UNLV, the Utah game will rank among the biggest TCU has played in recent years, with a conference title and a possible Bowl Championship Series bid on the line.
"If we want to accomplish the things we set out to achieve ... at the beginning of the season," Patterson said, "we've got to figure out a way to win at UNLV."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)