GLENDALE, Ariz. -- TC-Who?
The Texas Christian Horned Frogs are used to the question.
When TCU guard Josh Vernon boarded the elevator at the team's Fiesta Bowl headquarters hotel last week, a woman glanced at his outfit and asked what "TCU" stood for.
"I told her and she said, 'Well, where exactly is that?'" Vernon said, chuckling at the recollection. "It is funny. We went to Clemson (a 14-10 victory last Sept. 26), and it's 'Where's TCU?' By the end of that game, they knew who we were."
With a colorful history that includes two national titles -- in the 1930s -- the third-ranked Horned Frogs are no secret to college football fans. But they're hoping to make themselves known to a wider audience when they take on sixth-ranked Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night -- just as the Broncos became national darlings after knocking off Oklahoma on the same field three years ago.
Unlike many of the non-title BCS bowls, this one has a compelling storyline, and it goes beyond whether TCU's stalwart defense can shut down Boise State's video-game offense.
It's the first time two schools from conferences without automatic BCS bids have met on college football's grandest stage. A pair of unbeatens, too.
Mountain West champion TCU (12-0) earned an automatic bid to break into the BCS for the first time in school history. Its resume includes wins over Clemson in Death Valley and at Virginia, and humiliating routs of conference rivals Brigham Young and Utah.
Western Athletic Conference champ Boise State (13-0) became the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to receive an at-large bid. The Broncos launched their so-far perfect season with a 19-8 victory over eventual Pac-10 champion Oregon -- a game mostly remembered for Oregon tailback LeGarrette Blount's post-game punchout of Boise State's Byron Hout.
"I would say by having two non-qualifying schools in a BCS game, that has changed the landscape of college football forever as far as the BCS is concerned," TCU coach Gary Patterson said Sunday.
The winner will join either Alabama or Texas as the nation's only unbeaten teams, an outcome that won't satisfy playoff advocates. The who's-No. 1-debate may rage until the 2010 preview magazines hit the newsstands next summer.
"Finish among the few, that's all you can ask for, and let the debate go on," Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore said last week.
Patterson and Boise State coach Chris Petersen are open to playoff discussions. But for now, they're happy to be basking in the desert sunshine as BCS qualifiers.
"Show me right now how a playoff system is going to make it easier for Texas Christian University and Boise State, unless you give us an automatic qualifying berth into that playoff system," Patterson said. "It hasn't changed."
Patterson credited Boise State for knocking down "that wall" blocking outsiders from the BCS. Petersen also noted the historic nature of this matchup.
"A few years ago, for Boise State to even be mentioned in it, a lot of people wouldn't have thought that," Petersen said on Sunday. "Now to have two of us in a game like this, I mean, we're making progress. There's no question. Nobody has the perfect answer.
"Hopefully, we show well and can take the next step," Petersen said.
The next step for both programs is playing for the national championship, and that might not be as far-fetched as it seems.
Because both squads are expected to return key players in 2010, it's possible that the winner will open next year high in the preseason polls.
"I think both teams, depending on how the game goes, possibly because they have so many players coming back, have a preseason chance to be ranked high," Patterson said.
But first they have to play the Fiesta Bowl.
At first glance, the game presents an intriguing matchup of TCU's defense against Boise State's offense.
With Moore at the controls, the Broncos score 44.2 points per game, best in the country. The Horned Frogs concede 12.4 points per game, fourth nationally.
But TCU also has a potent attack, and it actually outgained Boise State this year, 469.1 yards per game to 460.5.
Boise State's defense has played well at times -- it limited Oregon to 28 points below its average -- but the Broncos also gave up 33 points to Nevada, 34 points to Fresno State and 35 points to Louisiana Tech, which scored one touchdown on an interception return.
Behind quarterback Andy Dalton and tailbacks Joseph Turner, Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley, TCU's offense scored 38 or more points in each of its last seven games.
"I think that's the key to the matchup right there, without question," Petersen said. "Our defense is going to have to slow those guys down somewhat. I mean, if TCU scores 40 points, that's not going to be good."