It's homecoming on the hill.

None of the reunions, though, will draw as much interest as today's football game between Utah and Weber State. The first meeting between the 17th-ranked Utes (4-0) and Wildcats (3-1) since 1984 is headlined by the return of Ron McBride. The Weber State coach is returning to Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time since coaching the Utes to a 13-6 victory over BYU on Nov. 23, 2002. He was fired shortly thereafter and replaced by some guy named Urban Meyer.

"Obviously I have a lot of great memories of being on the sidelines there and was involved in many memorable games," said McBride, who was Utah's head coach from 1990-2002. "We had a lot of good boosters and fans help us out during our stay to improve facilities and to get good players through recruiting. It will definitely feel different being on the other sideline this Saturday."

Utah defensive coordinator Gary Andersen, who was on McBride's staff from 1997-2002, acknowledged it will be a little different to see Mac on the other side of the field wearing purple.

"Once the game starts, he'll want to win as bad as I want to win," Andersen said. "Bottom line? I want to beat him."

That's not to say, however, that Andersen doesn't have an extreme appreciation for McBride. They talk to each other every couple of weeks, and McBride's daughter is a counselor to one of Andersen's children at Juan Diego High School.

"He's the reason I'm where I'm at today. There's no question. He gave me my first job opportunity and then he gave me an opportunity to come back here and work for him for a number of years," Andersen said.

"Still today he's a guy that I look to for advice a lot of times, and when things are tough he's a guy that I can lean on. My father passed away a long time ago. But if I have two dads — Mac, I guess, would be my second dad."

Whittingham also has kind things to say about McBride.

"I have a great deal of respect for him. He is responsible for the resurgence of the Utah football program, and the majority of the players on the 2004 (Fiesta Bowl) team were his recruits," Whittingham said.

"He gave me my first Division I job, and I am indebted to him for the opportunity. He is a close friend and a genuine guy. I learned a lot from him, particularly in the recruiting area."

Even so, when today's game kicks off, both men will be coaching to win.

"You zone out once the game starts. You don't even notice that," Whittingham said of the friendship. "It's business as usual. So I don't anticipate that being a factor."

The whole objective, he explained, is to make plays, manage the game and try to get a win.

Although the Utes are playing a Big Sky Conference school for just the fourth time in 20 years, they're determined to take the Wildcats seriously.

And with good reason.

Weber State's halftime lead over Hawaii a few weeks back and the play of quarterback Cameron Higgins have caught Utah's attention.

Higgins has a pass-efficiency rating of 176.49, tops in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Anyone with a rating that high, Andersen noted, is someone you better be aware of.

"He's a very talented quarterback. He throws the ball," Andersen said. "He gets rid of it, and he's got a good offensive line that has protected him well. He's obviously been extremely productive. so far, this year."

All things considered, the Utes vow they aren't looking past Weber State.

"Look at Appalachian State. You've got to take everybody seriously," said senior safety Terrell Cole. "You just can't overlook any team because anything can happen."

After playing three of their first four games on the road, including the last two, the Utes are eager to return to Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"I feel like we haven't played a home game at all this year. So it'll be nice to get out there in front of all of our fans," said senior quarterback Brian Johnson. "This place will be packed and be rocking. We're ready to give everyone a show."

EXTRA POINTS: Utah has won both previous meetings with Weber State, prevailing in in 1978 and 1984. ... The Utes have outscored opponents 45-3 in the third quarter this season. ... Besides McBride, three other coaches on Weber State's staff worked or played at Utah — Kevin Clune, Don Eck and Chad Kauha'aha'a.

Homecoming at the U.

Weber State (3-1) at No. 17 Utah (4-0)

Today, 6 p.m.

TV: none Radio: 700AM


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com