ANN ARBOR — Perhaps this isn't the best time to bring this up because, it is the Utes we're talking about. Same Utes who in past years tended to seize up when expectations got too high.

But fact is, Utah should win today against Michigan.

Calm down, everyone. Don't get your undies in a knot. College football isn't what it used to be. Scholarship limitations have evened the odds considerably, paving the way for the Hawaiis, Boise States and Utahs to play in BCS bowls.

Consequently, Ute fans shouldn't get too nervous about high expectations, though many believe Utah does better when it's flying under the radar. But that wasn't the case in 2004 when the Utes went undefeated. The radar just made them better.

So I'll say it again: Utah should beat Michigan today in the Big House.

Does this mean my IQ is falling like my 401(k)?

The best or second-best team in the Mountain West should beat the fifth- or sixth-best team in the Big Ten. No apologies necessary.

Utah came close to beating Michigan in 2002 — Michigan 10, Utah 7 — and that wasn't even a very good Utah team. It was so bad, coach Ron McBride got fired at season's end. Michigan was better than this year (ranked 14th, compared to unranked this year in one poll, 24th in another) and Utah was worse (Utah finished that season 5-6, losing six straight at one point).

Utah should win this time because Michigan has only three returning offensive starters. And because its starting quarterback — whoever that will be — hasn't taken a single college snap. It has a new coach with a new offensive scheme — a scheme the Utes should have no trouble recognizing since it's the same as theirs.

Starting offensive lineman Justin Boren transferred to Ohio State, saying Michigan had abandoned its family values. True or not, it doesn't appear everything is harmonious in the Big House.

Meanwhile, Utah has veteran leadership at quarterback, dangerous running backs and several outstanding receivers.

The Utes should win because, heck, Appalachian State beat Michigan here last year, and if Ap State can do it, so can Utah.

This is a different era for the Utes. They're far better established than they were in 2002. Since then they've won four bowl games, one of them being the Fiesta.

"When we go (recruiting) into someone's home now," said coach Kyle Whittingham, "they know who Utah is."

Beyond that, Utah has played other big-time teams and won. Among the BCS teams they've beaten in the last four years: UCLA, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Arizona, Pitt, North Carolina and Texas A&M.

Most of the "gee whiz" factor should be over by now.

That's not to say the Utes could beat such teams every week, but give them one game and they're mean-dog dangerous.

The Utes should probably be more worried about their Nov. 15 game against San Diego State than Michigan. Utah almost always gets ready for big games; it's the old familiar faces that give them trouble.

Two decades ago, teams like Utah might have lost to Michigan's second string. (Point of fact: Utah lost 64-6 to Ohio State in 1986.) But with scholarship limitations and expanded TV coverage, more good players are choosing to go to non-BCS schools.

"College football is to the point where the ones (starters) pretty much across the board can play with each other," said Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley.

Added Scalley, "We've played teams with speed — UCLA, Oregon State, Louisville. We should respect everyone but fear no one."

Since McBride arrived in 1990, the Utes have fared quite well against bigger programs. Aside from the aforementioned opponents, they've also beaten Minnesota, Kansas, Oregon, Stanford, Southern California, Washington State and Indiana — all BCS teams.

McBride didn't win titles, but he did teach the Utes not to be intimidated.

Oddsmakers this week put Utah at about a 3-point underdog.

That's just one dead-eye Louie Sakoda kick.

Which is reason enough to pick the Utes right there.


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