Other than all those championships, and the history of All-Americans, and that high-stepping marching band, and the huge stadium, and the national TV coverage and ...

Michigan is really just another place.

Honest.

The only thing the Utes need to get rolling on Saturday, when they meet the Wolverines, is a good, hard smack in the helmet.

"Once you get on the field, after the first crack of the pads, all that other stuff really kind of goes away," said Ute safeties' coach Morgan Scalley.

After that, it should be business as usual.

So here they are, six years after losing 10-7 to Michigan in Ann Arbor. This year's Utah team is experienced and talented and picked in some preseason Top-25 polls.

Six years ago, Scalley was a punt returner and safety for the Utes. So he understands what it's like to play before more than 100,000 people.

He's been there, ignored that.

"This is just my own personal thought, but when I went there I expected it to be bigger than it was," said Scalley. "It's really built underground and bowl shaped, but what makes it impressive is when everyone fills in, because it's all bleacher seating. So when you walk into the place, you say, 'Wow, it's not really that big.' But when it fills in, that's when it becomes impressive."

Oh, and one other thing.

It wasn't that loud.

"I remember it was a polite crowd, but it was a close game, so they didn't have that much to cheer about. But you expect it to be a little bit louder," Scalley said.

Saturday will mark the Utes' second trip to the Big House. Last time, they scared the stripes off the Wolverines' helmets. Even so, it was an overall flat day for both teams. Michigan went ahead 10-0, but Utah scored with 5:57 remaining.

It's not like the Wolverines were terribly intimidating.

They fumbled at the goal line and missed two fourth-quarter field goals.

Meanwhile, the Utes short-circuited their chances with late holding penalties.

A defensive struggle, the game was as artistic as a sneeze. The Utes left feeling they'd squandered a prime chance to gain national respect. The Wolverines left thinking they'd almost lost to a team they'd barely heard of.

"We came here to win, not to play close," groused then-Utes coach Ron McBride. "We didn't come to make a good show or gain respect. We were here to win."

It's not as though the Utes didn't know then, or don't know now, that they're playing where legends walked. It's just that it's still a job. They fly into town, check in to their hotel, eat the team meal. They study their plays, take the bus to the stadium, warm up, kick off.

Same thing they do against Wyoming.

It's so routine, in fact, that the most unusual thing Scalley remembers from the '02 trip is the accommodations.

"Comfortable beds," he said. "I hope we stay in the same hotel. Maybe they do that for a reason. Oh, those were comfortable beds."

Oh, yes, and the game.

"These are the games you remember. You may or may not remember the games where you blew people out, or the games you should have won," said Scalley, "but they're definitely going to remember this one."

The Utes got lucky late in the '02 game when Michigan kicker Philip Brabbs missed a 42-yard field goal. On fourth down, Utah quarterback Lance Rice was intercepted to end the suspense.

But that was then and this is now. Scalley points out that last year Utah played at Oregon State and Louisville — both BCS schools — so they shouldn't be intimidated.

"The closer the game is early, the more confidence there is in the players' minds," he said.

Then he paused, momentarily fixing a nine-mile stare.

"They've just got to understand that it's not that big a deal when it comes down to it."

Unless, of course, the Utes win.

Then it's monumental.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com