For the second time in three years, the University of Wyoming is off to a flying 4-0 start. What's more, the Cowboys are favored to run their record to 5-0 when they meet the University of Utah Saturday night in Rice Stadium.

Certainly, the Utes know what they're up against. "Wyoming is the best team we've faced so far," says Utah Coach Ron McBride. "They're in the same class as BYU."Utah defensive coordinator Greg McMackin said the same thing, independently of McBride: "Wyoming is the best team we've played this year."

Which is saying something when you consider that Utah was soundly beaten by Fresno State 31-7 two weeks ago. The Utes are 2-2 and riding a two-game losing streak. They also have lost to Wyoming four consecutive times.

If the Cowboys are the best team the Utes have seen so far this season, Wyoming's defensive end, Mitch Donahue, is probably the best player they've seen, as well. The vital statistics and honors: preseason All-America, 1989 WAC Defensive Player of the Year, member of the WAC All-Decade team for the '80s, 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, 4.7 speed, 16 solo tackles this season, plus five assists, two sacks, three tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks.

With Donahue and Utah linebacker Anthony Davis on the same field, Saturday's game will feature two of the WAC's top defensive performers.

After a season-long lapse, Wyoming is back and looking like BYU's top challenger for the WAC title. The Cowboys, following two unbeaten conference seasons, slipped to 5-3 in WAC play a year ago, and 5-6 overall. This season they have cruised through their early schedule. They opened with a home win over Temple, 38-23, routed Washington State on the road 34-13 (a team that pushed BYU to the brink in Provo), then handled Arkansas State 34-27 and Air Force 24-12 at home.

"We'll have to be ready for everything," says McMackin. "They run and pass equally well."

The offense is led by a trio of players - quarterback Tom Corontzos, tight end Gordy Wood and kicker Sean Fleming - who are on pace to lead the all-time career list at Wyoming in their specialties. Corontzos, who was a favorite target of critics last season, has completed 55 percent of his passes for 864 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. A junior, he needs 1,832 yards to become Wyoming's career passing leader.

Wood, who is 21 receptions away from becoming Wyoming's all-time receiving leader, has 17 catches and three touchdowns. Fleming, another junior, needs three field goals to become the all-time leader at Wyoming. Already this season he has made 10 of 13 field goal attempts, two of them 50 yards or longer. He also averages 46.7 yards per punt.

The Pokes' running attack relies on junior college transfer Dwight Driver, who has rushed for 240 yards (5.3 per carry).

The Cowboys are averaging a modest (by WAC standards) 397 yards per game but a not-so-modest 32.5 points per game. But the team's biggest strength is defense, which alows just 336 yards and 18.8 points per game. The Cowboys also lead the WAC in turnover margin with a plus-10.

Aside from Donahue, the Cowboys' top performers on defense have been linebackers Willie Wright (28 tackles) and Jerod Theile (22 tackles).