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Utes look to avenge last year’s bitter loss

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Brandon Warfield hasn't forgotten. Last year's 28-20 loss to Colorado State is still eating him up.

"That was one of the games we needed to keep in the race for the conference championship," Warfield said. "It's unfinished business."

Not only did Utah fail to cash in on a first-and-goal opportunity from the CSU 7 in the final minute, the Utes also let a dominant statistical advantage go to waste. They racked up 481 yards of total offense, while limiting the Rams to just 252.

"Playing them the way we did we should have come out with the win. I think it's been in the back of some of the players' minds," linebacker Ray Holdcraft said. "We've been practicing and getting everything straight so when we meet them again it'll be a different story."

The chance to do so comes today (4:30 p.m., KJZZ-TV, Ch. 14) when Utah (2-1) and CSU (2-2) square off at Hughes Stadium. Making amends and seeking revenge are just part of the intrigue surrounding the league opener for both teams.

"Whoever wins this game probably will be the Mountain West Conference champion," said Holdcraft, who noted that head coach Urban Meyer has continually mentioned that the road to the title passes through Fort Collins. "It's going to be a tough game for us, but we're going to come with our 'A' game."

Utah has had plenty of time to prepare. The Utes haven't had a game since topping California 31-24 with a late rally on Sept. 11.

"Some teams use bye weeks to get healthy and clean up problem areas," Meyer said. "We went to work on CSU. They are a team where you need all the preparation time you can get."

Meyer speaks from experience. He was an assistant coach for the Rams from 1990-95, the final three on Sonny Lubick's staff. And though he has great respect and an ongoing friendship with the CSU coach, Meyer insists their first head-to-head meeting is all about the kids. For Utah, specifically, an opportunity to win a big game.

"It's a big deal," said Warfield, the nation's third-leading rusher (149.3 yards per game) who had 111 yards against the Rams in 2002. "If you knock them off . . . everybody is going to know that Utah is for real this year."

It's a question that could easily be asked of CSU as well. The Rams, who were tabbed in preseason polls to repeat as league champions, are coming off a surprising 41-21 loss at home to Miami of Ohio.

"We're fine," Lubick said. "We'll come out and play hard."

Given CSU's recent past, Meyer is expecting nothing less.

"It concerns me because I know that staff and very rarely will CSU lose twice in a row," he said.

EXTRA POINTS: Suspended tailback Marty Johnson entered a guilty plea to his second misdemeanor charge of drunken driving in 11 months. Johnson will return to court Oct. 25, where it'll be determined if he violated terms of his probation from the first conviction . . . Utah leads the all-time series with CSU 48-21-2, but has lost the past five meetings . . . The Utes are 20-13 in Fort Collins . . . Utah receivers coach Billy Gonzales was a four-year letter-winner for the Rams from 1990-93. Community liaison Hyrum DeFries lettered at CSU from 1960-62 . . . Weber State dropped a 31-7 decision at CSU on Sept. 13 . . . The Rams are 73-4 under Lubick when leading after three quarters . . . The Utes are 7-3 in their past 10 conference openers.

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com