FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Utah's Mountain West Conference title defense begins today at Colorado State.
And though snow is in the forecast, the Rams are expecting one of their largest crowds of the decade.
It's homecoming at 32,500-seat Hughes Stadium and the place could be rocking.
Such is life away from home.
"If you want to win championships, you've got to win on the road," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
That has certainly been the case in the MWC. No champion has lost a league game on the road since CSU dropped a 44-40 decision at Air Force on Nov. 11, 2000.
The past eight champs have been perfect away from home against conference foes.
History, though, isn't something Whittingham dwells on.
"Every year is different. Every Saturday is different," he said while noting that matchups and personnel change. "Every week is a new challenge, a new opportunity."
For Utah, it's a chance to build on a 30-14 win over Louisville on Sept. 26. The Utes haven't played since.
"Looking back, I thought the Louisville game was our most complete game of the year," Whittingham said. "We played solid in all three phases of the game."
A successful encore, he explained, will involve a couple of keys. On offense, the Utes need to be more productive in the red zone.
"It's all about scoring points and we've got to do a better job with that," Whittingham said before adding that the defense will have to limit big plays and cover the deep ball effectively.
Colorado State quarterback Grant Stucker is one of the MWC's top passers. The Rams average 262 yards per game in the air.
Even so, head coach Steve Fairchild insists he prefers a more balanced attack.
"We try and go into a game not leaning too heavily on one thing," he said. "It is just the nature of our scheme. All these games are played different. The game kind of dictates what we will do."
It's a good bet, though, that CSU will test Utah's new starting cornerbacks R.J. Stanford and Brandon Burton. The Rams were frustrated trying to throw against current NFL defensive backs Sean Smith and Brice McCain in a 49-16 loss to Utah last season.
"They embarrassed us with the play of their corners against our receivers," Fairchild said. "We couldn't get off the ball at all. We struggled."
The Utes are hoping for more of the same. They enter the game ranked eighth nationally in pass-efficiency defense.
Overall consistency, however, is Utah's main objective. The Utes made big strides in the win over Louisville.
"We blew very few assignments," Whittingham said. "That's really what it boiled down to."
Defensive end Koa Misi pointed to Utah's 31-24 loss at Oregon on Sept. 19 as the turning point.
"I think we came out with a different mentality," he said. "Everybody was ready to play."
EXTRA POINTS: Utah leads the all-time series with Colorado State by a 53-22-2 margin, including a 22-14 advantage in Fort Collins. ... The Utes lead the nation in third-down defense. Opponents are converting just 19.2 percent of the time. ... Running backs coach Aaron Alford is a CSU alum and linebacker J.J. Williams (Aurora) is the only Ute from Colorado. ... CSU backup quarterback Jon Eastman played for Hillcrest High with current Utes Zane Beadles and Ben Hendy. ... The Rams are one of only five teams in the country that have yet to lose a fumble this season.
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