While fans and the media focus on Bowl Championship Series possibilities, the undefeated Utes are fixated on a different prize. Their quest for a second consecutive Mountain West Conference title enters its most pivotal stretch.
Beginning with Saturday's affair at Rice-Eccles Stadium against UNLV (5 p.m., KJZZ, Ch. 14), Utah closes out the season with five straight league games — three at home (the Rebels, Colorado State, BYU) and two on the road (San Diego State, Wyoming).
Each represents a challenge the Utes, who are seventh in the BCS standings, ninth in the AP Top 25 and 10th in the ESPN/USA Today rankings, aren't taking for granted.
"Every game we're going to get their best shot. If we're not prepared we can lose on any give day," said wide receiver Paris Warren. "Right now our focus is really on UNLV. "
Middle linebacker Tommy Hackenbruck was one of the last to know that the Utes had fared well in the first BCS standings of the season. He learned about it from a reporter several hours after the announcement.
"We're No. 7? That's good, but I'm not really too concerned about it" said the senior. "I hope no one's getting too concerned on our team. That's not our goal right now."
Such focus and commitment is something head coach Urban Meyer appreciates about his team. BCS talk, he explained, is really insignificant at this point.
"I think in a month and a half there will be a lot of significance to it," said Meyer. "We only control what we control. The target is UNLV."
The Rebels are coming off a disappointing 24-20 setback to New Mexico that made them one of just three teams in the MWC with two losses in league play. Utah is the lone unbeaten with Air Force, BYU, Colorado State and Wyoming clustered together with one setback.
Though CSU lost quarterback Justin Holland for the season with a broken ankle, Meyer still thinks the Rams and head coach Sonny Lubick will have a say in who wins the league title.
"They're the ones laying in the bushes that are going to find a way because that's the coach. That's what they've done. It's time-tested," said Meyer. "There are a bunch of wannabes, which we are — a wannabe — because we haven't done it for nine years like Sonny has."
Meyer's concerns aren't limited to Lubick. He also has a lot of respect for Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry and expects the Falcons to be a factor as well. Same goes for Utah's top rival — the Team Down South.
"We're watching them on tape right now," Meyer said of BYU. "I think they've got as good of personnel as anyone in the conference."
The Utes, thus, plan to take things one game at a time — hoping to avoid a misstep like Fresno State suffered in WAC play against Louisiana Tech. Warren, a team captain, vows they won't get caught up in polls and such.
For obvious reasons, that is music to Meyer's ears.
"I am so impressed with the leadership of this team," he said. "I love this team."
EXTRA POINTS: Meyer said punter Matt Kovacevich will likely handle kickoff duties in Saturday's game against UNLV. Freshman David Carroll will do the placekicking. They will replace Bryan Borreson, who is suffering from a recurring groin injury . . . The Oct. 30 game at San Diego State has been set for 7 p.m. Mountain Time. It will be televised by KJZZ (Ch. 14) . . . Former major league all-star Dale Murphy attended Tuesday practice.
Mountain West Conference title race
UTAH (6-0, 2-0) — Home (3): Oct. 23, UNLV; Nov. 6, Colorado State; Nov. 20, BYU. Away (2): Oct. 30, San Diego State; Nov. 13, Wyoming.
AIR FORCE (3-3, 2-1) — Home (3): Oct. 23, BYU; Nov. 13, San Diego State; Nov. 20, Colorado State. Away (2): Oct. 30, Wyoming; Nov. 6, Army.
COLORADO STATE (2-4, 1-1) — Home (3): Oct. 22, Wyoming; Oct. 30, New Mexico; Nov. 13, UNLV. Away (2): Nov. 6, Utah; Nov. 20, Air Force.
BYU (2-1, 3-4) — Home (2): Nov. 6, San Diego State; Nov. 13, New Mexico. Away (2): Oct. 23, Air Force; Nov. 20, Utah.
WYOMING (4-2, 1-1) — Home (2): Oct. 30, Air Force; Nov. 13, Utah. Away (3): Oct. 22, Colorado State; Nov. 6, UNLV; Nov. 20, New Mexico.
NEW MEXICO (3-4, 1-2) — Home (2): Oct. 23, San Diego State; Nov. 20, Wyoming. Away (2): Oct. 30, Colorado State; Nov. 13, BYU.
UNLV (2-5, 1-2) — Home (1): Nov. 6, Wyoming. Away (3): Oct. 23, Utah; Nov. 13, Colorado State; Nov. 20, San Diego State.
SAN DIEGO STATE (2-4, 0-2) — Home (2): Oct. 30, Utah; Nov. 20, UNLV. Away (3): Oct. 23, New Mexico; Nov. 6, BYU; Nov. 13, Air Force.