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Utah Utes football preview: Team’s focus stays strictly on MWC title quest

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's last ride through the Mountain West Conference won't include a lot of pomp and circumstance, tissue or tears.

The Utes won't be taking time to see the sights in Albuquerque; Laramie, Wyo.; Colorado Springs; or San Diego this season. They won't be heading to league headquarters to admire commissioner Craig Thompson's hair, either.

"I'm not really a reminiscent guy, not sentimental or any of that stuff," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said at the MWC's annual football meetings in July.

Moving to the soon-to-be-dubbed Pac-12 in 2011, he added, hasn't even entered his mind because the Utes are still part of the MWC.

And that's all that matters, right now.

"Whatever conference we're in, the No. 1 goal is going to be to win that conference because that's the only thing you have complete control over," Whittingham said while reeling off the accomplishments of MWC squads. "There's a lot of good teams in this conference … and so we're not getting ahead of ourselves. The Mountain West Conference is what we're striving for and that championship."

The Pac-12, though, may be on the minds of MWC opponents this year. Perhaps they want to send the Utes out with a message. Having an "x" on their backs, however, is nothing new for Whittingham's squad.

"We always do. Same thing after the '04 season. Same thing after the '08 season. We're used to that," Whittingham said. "We expect everybody's best shot each and every week. That's the mentality you've got to have."

Talking is one thing, he noted, and playing is quite another.

"Once the ball is in the air on game day, everyone settles in and plays ball," Whittingham said.

After opening the season Sept. 2 at home against Pittsburgh, Utah embarks upon its final MWC campaign with a home game against UNLV and a road trip to New Mexico.

Before season's end, the Utes also will play host to Colorado State, TCU and BYU. In addition, they'll travel to Wyoming, Air Force and San Diego State.

The last MWC football journey ends with the rivalry game against the Cougars on Nov. 27. It'll mark the end of successful association for the Utes, who are 56-26 in MWC games since the league was formed in 1999.

Now, before they put the conference in their rearview mirror, one last look at the road ahead — and not the one involving opponents from Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington.

That can wait.

SEPT. 11 VS. UNLV (2 p.m., Rice-Eccles Stadium): The Utes and Rebels meet for the 16th and perhaps final time. Utah leads the all-time series 13-2 and is 7-0 at home against UNLV.

SEPT. 18 AT NEW MEXICO (6 p.m., University Stadium): The Utes hold a 32-17-2 advantage over the Lobos, including a 13-12-1 edge in Albuquerque. The series has been played each year since 1983.

OCT. 16 AT WYOMING (4 p.m., War Memorial Stadium): The Utes and Cowboys met for the first time in 1904. Utah leads the all-time series 50-31-1, but Wyoming is 20-18 against the Utes in Laramie.

OCT. 23 VS. COLORADO STATE (4 p.m., Rice-Eccles Stadium): Another lengthy series may be coming to an end. Utah and CSU will be meeting for the 79th time. The Utes are 54-22-2 against the Rams, including a 31-8-2 mark at home.

OCT. 30 AT AIR FORCE (5:30 p.m., Falcon Stadium): The Falcons are the lone MWC team to hold an all-time series lead over the Utes, winning 14 of the 26 meetings. Utah is 5-7 in games played at the academy.

NOV. 6 VS. TCU (1:30 p.m., Rice-Eccles Stadium): The Utes had won three straight games over the Horned Frogs before last season. Utah tops the all-time series by a 5-2 margin. TCU is 0-3 in Salt Lake City.

NOV. 20 AT SAN DIEGO STATE (8 p.m., Qualcomm Stadium): Something's got to give when Utah visits SDSU. The series at Qualcomm Stadium is knotted at 7-7-1. The Utes, however, lead the overall series by a 16-12-1 margin.

NOV. 27 VS. BYU (1:30 p.m., Rice-Eccles Stadium): The Rivalry Game has been a dandy over the past couple of seasons. Utah is 53-34-4 all-time against BYU and 36-17-3 versus the Cougars at home.

Conference football affiliation

Conference...First year...Seasons...Titles


Rocky Mountain...1910...27*...10

Big Seven...1938...10...5


Western Athletic...1962...37...2

Mountain West...1999...11...4

*Utah did not play football in 1918

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com