Ute football: Beavers, Utes get national spotlight
The Mountain West Conference's success against the Pac-10 has become one of the prevailing storylines in college football this season.
Now the attention those matchups are creating comes to Salt Lake City, giving the No. 15 Utah Utes a chance at a statement game on a scale no one would have predicted until Oregon State (2-2) upset USC 27-21 Thursday.
"Everyone is looking at them to find out what they're all about," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It brings a lot more intrigue to the game."
The Utes (5-0) hope they can use that intrigue to their advantage when they play the Beavers at 7 p.m. Thursday in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Beating Michigan in the season opener was impressive enough nationally to get the Utes into the Top 25 polls, but knocking off the team that just upset the top-ranked team in the country could be viewed as even more of a quality win.
"For the players, it would have been a big game regardless if they had beaten USC," Utah quarterback Brian Johnson said. "But with them beating USC it brings more attention from the outside. The rest of the country will be anxious to see what happens and see if them beating USC was a fluke or if they are for real."
Already the MWC has earned more national attention than usual, going 5-1 against the Pac-10 this season. The lone loss was Colorado State falling to Cal 42-7 Saturday. Last week Utah, BYU and TCU were all ranked, giving the conference three ranked teams for the first time.
Many college football sites and voters are rating the MWC as a stronger conference than the Pac-10 this season and the Utes want to do their part to continue that momentum and exposure.
"It's not just the Pac-10," Johnson said. "Any time you can go and win a huge non-conference game it gains notoriety for the conference and it's a healthy thing."
Utah has done its share to better the conference's image in the past, becoming the first BCS buster in 2004 and going 9-3 against BCS teams since 2004.
One of Utah's biggest wins against a BCS team under Whittingham was last season when the Utes beat then No. 11 ranked UCLA 44-6.
But in contrast to that victory, which came after the Utes opened the season 0-2, Thursday's contest isn't potentially a season saver, but a season maker.
"This is what the game of football is all about for me and why I play," defender Greg Newman said. "It's going to be a whole lot of fun and I can't wait to get out there."