SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Utah's 8-0 start included victories over teams with a current combined record of 26-57. Of that group, only Pittsburgh (5-4) and Air Force (7-4) have winning records. Iowa State (5-6) is the next best with Colorado State (3-8), UNLV (2-8), Wyoming (2-9), New Mexico (1-9) and San Jose State (1-9) rounding out the field.
The Utes' schedule took a dramatic turn two weeks ago with undefeated TCU coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Horned Frogs are now 11-0. Notre Dame (5-5) followed.
"We were fully aware that the degree of difficulty got higher as the season went on," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We weren't tooting our own horn."
The pollsters and computer rankings, however, did — leading to significant national recognition.
"We had beaten a lot of teams that we should have beaten and (knew) that a tough stretch was coming up," Whittingham said.
Utah's season-ending games are at San Diego State (7-3) on Saturday and at home against BYU (5-5) the following week — a couple of more tests during a challenging portion of the schedule.
In explaining the current two-game skid, offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom said it has to do with the caliber of teams the Utes are facing.
"In times like this, there aren't a lot of answers," he noted. "It's easy when things are high and you're winning eight games in a row. But now it's just time to dig deep and figure it out."