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Utes desperate for MWC victory

Win some, lose some.

Since 2005, that's how Utah has fared in Mountain West Conference games. The Utes are 9-9 in league play since winning back-to-back outright championships — losing to all eight other teams in the process.

Parity, or so it seems, has altered the landscape.

'You've got to come to play every game," senior linebacker Joe Jiannoni said. "Every team, every year, they bring something new to the table, and you've got to study for it. Every year it's totally different."

Utah and San Diego, who'll meet Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium (1 p.m., Comcast), are proof of it.

"They came in here a couple of years ago and took it to us at our place," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We got them back last year at their place."

The past two outcomes were poles apart. The Aztecs prevailed in Salt Lake City, 28-19, and Utes triumphed in San Diego, 38-7.

Intriguing scores considering Utah has made six bowl appearances in recent years and San Diego State hasn't made one since the league was formed in 1999.

Unpredictability is nothing new in a conference with a preseason poll that has picked the eventual champion just three times in eight seasons. TCU, this year's favorite, already has two league losses and will likely be the sixth team in MWC history to come up short.

"There's definitely no gimmes in this league. There's a bunch of good football teams. I think it's very obvious when we get outside of conference how competitive it is," Utah defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said. "It's good football, and you better be ready to play every week. This conference has had some real quality out of conference wins, which just goes to show you quality football is played here."

Among the most noteworthy: Utah's victories over UCLA and Louisville, as well as Wyoming's win over Virginia.

"You better be ready to play every week in the Mountain West Conference," Andersen explained. "I don't think you're going to ever see a situation where one team dominates this conference year-in and year-out."

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said there's nothing easy about league play — and not just in the Mountain West.

"In this day and age there are no gimmes in any conference," he said while referring to Stanford's upset win over Southern Cal last weekend.

Whittingham also pointed to USC's surprising setback as evidence that times have changed.

"Any given Saturday — if you're not ready to play — virtually anybody can beat anybody else," Whittingham said.

UNLV proved it. The Rebels stepped up and shocked the Utes three weeks ago, 27-0.

The loss, coupled with an earlier setback to Air Force, put Utah in an 0-2 hole early in conference play.

"We've got to get a Mountain West Conference victory," Whittingham said as the Utes embark on a season-ending stretch of six-consecutive league games. "That's all that's on our minds."

After the San Diego State game at home, Utah faces TCU (Oct. 18) and Colorado State (Oct. 27) on the road. The Utes then host Wyoming (Nov. 10) and New Mexico (Nov. 17) before traveling to BYU on Nov. 24.

With so much work ahead, Whittingham isn't wasting any time looking back to the embarrassing loss at UNLV.

"It's history. I don't even think about it. We are moving forward," said Whittingham, whose squad has won two straight games since the debacle. "We've had a couple of weeks where we've played consistently."

All the focus now, he added, is on San Diego State.

"We've got to go in there and play hard. Play like we have the last couple of weeks — with consistency and with toughness," Whittingham said. "... They're a very talented team. Every San Diego State team I've ever played since I've been here at Utah has speed and athleticism. Maybe as much, or more, as anyone in the league."

EXTRA POINTS: Utah corporate sponsor Comcast will televise Saturday's game live on channels 111 and 675 (HD) — from Logan to Payson and from Grantsville to Park City ... Senior safety Steve Tate is a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame's Draddy Trophy, which honors athletes who are successful on the field, in the classroom and in the community ... Phil Steele's college football magazine has named defensive tackle Koa Misi and kicker/punter Louie Sakoda to its midseason all-conference first team. Tailback Darrell Mack and cornerback Sean Smith are on the second team.

On the air

San Diego State (2-3, 1-0) at Utah (3-3, 0-2)

Saturday, 1 p.m., Rice-Eccles Stadium

Radio: 700AM TV: Comcast 111