Football may be a game of inches. At Utah, however, another measurement is used.
"We break our season into thirds," explained coach Kyle Whittingham.
The 17th-ranked Utes completed the first segment of their 12-game schedule with a 4-0 record. Victories over Michigan, UNLV, Utah State and Air Force have the program off to its best start since 2004.
"The first third of the season is over and we're in good shape," Whittingham said. "We've got the middle third coming up and the bye week. Then the final third. So it's kind of a natural break right now."
Play resumes with Saturday's homecoming tilt against Weber State.
"It kind of flew by so fast. I can't believe we're at our fifth game," said senior receiver Brent Casteel. "We put a lot of preparation into those games. We accomplished what we wanted to get done with those games, and we're looking forward to the middle part of the season."
The second segment includes games against the Wildcats, Oregon State, Wyoming and Colorado State. With the exception of a trip to Laramie, all of the contests will be played at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Following an open date on Oct. 25, the Utes close out their season with Mountain West Conference games against New Mexico, TCU, San Diego State and BYU.
Senior cornerback Brice McCain insists they're all big.
"We'll just take it one game at a time, one assignment at a time and one play at a time," he said. "That's what we'll try to do."
There's added motivation as well.
"We still haven't played our best football game. We still struggle in a few areas," Casteel said. "But with the more preparation we put into each opportunity that we get to go on the practice field, I think that we'll have a better outcome each week.
"Hopefully, we'll keep this winning streak going and get to the BCS," he continued.
The latter, obviously, is the ultimate prize. It's not something the team openly discusses. The Utes have kept their team expectations relatively close to the vest. Getting off to a 4-0 start, though, is no surprise.
"We expected this coming into this season. We're looking forward to being a BCS team, going undefeated and competing for the Mountain West championship. So it's nothing that our team didn't know we could do," senior safety Terrell Cole said. "Some teams are surprised that they are undefeated, but we expected this. We're not expecting to lose. Like I've said, we're taking it one week at a time, one opponent at a time, and one scheme at a time. That's how we play our best football."
And speaking of best football, that's something the Utes don't think they've done.
"I think the first third of the season, we played well. We're 4-0. But I still feel and I think everybody else feels that we've yet to play our best game," Cole said. "Our defense has played good and our offense has played good. But we have little mistakes that we could eliminate to make us a better football team."
After four games, Utah ranks third nationally in total defense (199.5 ypg) and is 19th in scoring offense (38.8 ppg).
"I think we are right where we need to be after the first third of the season, obviously, being 4-0," senior quarterback Brian Johnson said. "The first month of the season is always kind of a measuring point of where you are in your scheme and what you're doing. We've definitely seen some good things, and we've done some things that we've got to improve upon.
It remains to be seen if the next segment of four games will be as challenging as the first in terms of injuries, penalties and turnovers.
"I think the most important thing so far is we've been able to overcome adversity through our games," junior middle linebacker Mike Wright said. "Every game we've had so far we've had something where it's come up. It hasn't gone exactly to plan in every game but we've been able to bounce back. We've been able to come back, play 60 minutes of football and come out with a victory."EXTRA POINTS: Three starters did not practice Tuesday. Running back Darrell Mack (turf toe), right guard Robert Conley (knee) and defensive end Koa Misi (ankle) are considered "day-to-day" and will be evaluated on a daily basis. Whittingham said Mack, who rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns last week at Air Force, will be a game-time decision ... Whittingham confirmed Cole will once again be Utah's punt returner ... Late arrival Aiona Key is expected to make his Utah debut Saturday. Whittingham said the highly touted receiver, who missed all of camp and the first two weeks of the season waiting for a junior college grade to be posted, will see action on two or three special teams and participate in select offensive series.
McBride returns to U.
Weber St. (3-1) at No. 17 Utah (4-0)
Saturday, 6 p.m.