Coming off its best offensive performance of the year along with another solid defensive outing, the University of Utah football team has moved into uncharted waters this week - the nation's Top Ten.
The Utes, one of just five unbeaten, untied teams left in major college football following a 52-7 win over UTEP Saturday, have moved up to No. 8 in the coaches USA Today/CNN poll and No. 9 in the Associated Press poll."It's a great thing and a nice tribute to the players," said Ute coach Ron McBride of the Top 10 rankings. "But it's something I don't focus on."
The players claim they're not too concerned about the polls and rankings either.
"We haven't really thought about it yet," said Ute running back Charlie Brown, who led the Utes with four touchdowns and 143 yards against UTEP. "We're just going game by game."
"This is the championship drive for us," said quarterback Mike McCoy. "We need to keep going one game at a time."
The next game on the Utes' minds comes Saturday at Albuquerque when the Utes play New Mexico. Although the Lobos are just 3-6, they may just be the scariest team the Utes have played all year. They're coming off two straight wins, the latter a 49-32 win at Fresno State.
"New Mexico is really coming of age as a team," said McBride. "They are a very dangerous football team."
With a little luck the Lobos could be 8-1 right now. Five of their losses have been by a touchdown or less, with a couple decided in the final minute.
The Lobo offense has ranked among the country's top 10 all season, led by Stoney Case, whom McBride calls a "big-time player" and "one of the most gifted players in the country."
Where Utah should have the advantage is against the Lobo defense, which has been one of the worst in the nation, giving up nearly 500 yards a game.
Against UTEP, whose defense ranks ahead of New Mexico's, the Utes rolled up 628 yards, the fifth-best total in school history.
"Today, everything was flowing," said quarterback McCoy, who passed for 391 yards and three touchdowns in less than three quarters of work.
"I've got to give all the credit to the offensive line," added McCoy. "They opened up the holes for the running backs and gave me all the time in the world."
Indeed, McCoy wasn't sacked once all game. Those overlooked offensive linemen include center Lance Scott, guards Roy Ma'afala and Kamiela Neves and tackles Anthony Brown and Chris Rae.
Utah's dynamic duo of receivers, Deron Claiborne and Curtis Marsh, both came up with seven catches Saturday to keep them among the nation's leaders in receptions per game.
GAME NOTES: One big factor in the Utes' success this year has been the lack of injuries. They came out of the UTEP game with the usual nicks and bruises, but nothing serious. Defensive end Nate Kia hurt his knee and was going to have it checked more extensively Monday. All-America candidate Luther Elliss suffered a hyperextended elbow late in the first half, but it wasn't serious and he will play this week . . . Freshman Juan Johnson sat out Saturday still suffering from a hamstring injury . . . New Mexico is the only team that has defeated Utah the past two years, winning 24-7 in 1992 and 42-35 last year.
Top 10 in polls
USA Today AP
1. Penn State Nebraska
2. Nebraska Penn State
3. Miami Auburn
4. Alabama Florida
5. Florida Miami
6. Florida St. Alabama
7. Colorado Colorado
8. Utah Florida St.
9. Syracuse Utah