Utah Utes football: Saturday showdown with TCU puts Utes in bright spotlight
Mike Terry, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's days of flying under the radar this season are over. The Utes are a known commodity now that they've risen to No. 5 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
Saturday's showdown with TCU — currently No. 3 in the BCS standings — at Rice-Eccles Stadium has put Utah squarely in the spotlight. The Utes (8-0) and Horned Frogs (9-0) are two of just five unbeaten teams left in the nation.
The battle between the top two Mountain West Conference foes will bring ESPN's "College Football GameDay" to town and dozens of other media outlets from across the country.
"This is going to be one of the biggest games anyone will see this whole season," said Utah center Zane Taylor. "I honestly think you might be seeing the two best college football teams playing this Saturday and I'll defend that any time."
Besides likely going on to earn a lucrative BCS berth (Fiesta, Orange, Rose or Sugar bowls), the winner may have a shot of playing in the national championship game.
The implications, obviously, are huge.
"It's definitely going to be a lot of fun. I'm definitely looking forward to it," said Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn. "It's going to be a battle of two great teams and as a competitor this is what you want. You want to play against the best teams. I'm just excited."
Adding to his excitement is having ESPN's "GameDay" on hand. Wynn grew up watching the show.
"It's pretty cool that they are going to be coming here to watch us," he said.
Interest in the game, the highest-ranked matchup in the state's history, is sky high. Request for media credentials has exceeded capacity in the press box. Overflow sections are being set up.
"It's going to be a dogfight," said Utah safety Justin Taplin-Ross. "Both teams are going to come out and give it their best shot."
Tempering that enthusiasm, however, could be a challenge.
Or will it?
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham doesn't think so. The Utes, ranked sixth in this week's national polls, have adhered to a "one-game-at-a-time" approach this season.
"I think it's our mindset within this program that is the most important thing. Our guys are very well-grounded. We understand that although we're in a very good position right now, there's still a full one-third of the season left to be played," Whittingham explained.
"We've done a great job week-to-week all year long of not getting caught up in looking past an opponent or any hype that may be attached to a game.
"Now this, obviously, is ratcheted up several notches from what we've experienced throughout the first part of the season," he added. "But we've got great senior leadership and I think our players are going to handle it very well."
Taylor, a team captain, agrees.
"We have a great team unity. We don't have a lot of guys having their heads in the wrong place," he said while noting many of the players have been in the program long enough to know the importance of focusing on the task at hand.
"We know that has brought us such success in the last couple of years. So they take our lead. They don't see the captains or the leaders sitting back and admiring themselves. We don't do that. We've never done that. The younger guys, they see that, they understand it, and they follow our lead. It's a huge part of why we're successful."
The Utes are off to their third 8-0 start in seven years. The two others led to perfect seasons, culminating with victories in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and 2009 Sugar Bowl, respectively.
"We trust the process. We respect the process. We know it works," Taylor said. "We know the coaches are right. We don't question anything we do here because we know it's the right way to go."
No. 4 TCU (9-0, 5-0 MWC) vs. No. 6 Utah (8-0, 5-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV: CBS C
Radio: 700 AM
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