View from the Booth: Toughest part of Utes' schedule finally here

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 27 2010 9:00 p.m. MDT

So now, Utah fans, it begins.

Everything up to this point in time has simply been preseason, though we knew the schedule would likely be a soft one after the Pittsburgh opener. I don't think we had any idea just how easily the Utes would run over their next six opponents.

How about outscoring your opponents in each and every quarter by a total of 334 to 90? Or how about the Utes ranking second in the Mountain West in total defense and fifth overall in the NCAA?

I think it's a tribute to how deep and talented a squad Kyle Whittingham has put together and how hard they've played.

But let's not kid ourselves — the competition hasn't been great, either.

So the 12-game season is now a five-game season for the eighth-ranked Utes, and it begins this Saturday at the Air Force Academy. One thing is for certain — the nation is beginning to take notice of this 2010 edition of Utah football.

I've been a guest on a number of sports talk programs around the country this week, and everyone wants to know just how good this Utah football team is. My short answer to them is that we'll find out over the next two weeks.

Air Force presents the first real and unique challenge the Utes have faced this season, and if they get past the Falcons on Saturday, the biggest and toughest test of the regular season awaits in the form of the TCU Horned Frogs. But we'll talk more about the Frogs next week in this space.

The other question I get an awful lot from folks around the country is about Utah "flying under the radar" as the "other" non-AQ school, with all the love that's being shown to Boise State and TCU.

My response is a pretty simple one: Utah can take care of its business by simply winning games and winning out the rest of the season.

Make no mistake about it — if Utah, Boise State or TCU lose just a single regular-season game, all of that national love will disappear quickly.

What looked like it might be an extremely difficult game a couple of weeks ago doesn't look to be as challenging this weekend when Utah faces Air Force. The Falcons are coming off back-to-back road losses at San Diego State and TCU. In addition, they are without their top running back, Park City native Jared Tew, who is out for the rest of the season with an injury.

Look, I know that this series has been really close; in fact, Air Force holds the all-time lead in the series at 14-12. Plus, in the last five matchups, each game has been decided by less than eight points.

But something feels different about it this time. Utah is playing extremely well in all phases, and the focus on this team seems to be singular right now, without any looking ahead.

My gut tells me this one is close early, but Utah pulls away late. Utah has too many weapons on offense for the Falcons to deal with on Saturday. The battle to watch is Utah's rush defense against the Air Force running game.

I know it sounds pretty simple, but if the Utes tackle and are assignment sound, they will handle the Cadets. Then the fun will begin as TCU comes to Rice-Eccles Stadium the following Saturday.

I'm looking forward to the trip to the Academy on Saturday, It's always one of my favorites. I will talk to you on the radio Saturday afternoon.

Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.

TWITTER: espn700bill

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