For Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, Saturday's game against No. 5 Stanford will serve as a barometer of sorts.
He's seen a lot of Stanford film since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011, but because the teams didn't play the past two years, he never studied the Cardinal specifically. Anything he saw was a result of watching Stanford's opponents.
That doesn't mean the Cardinal didn't leave a lasting impression. It did. And after studying this year's Stanford team, Whittingham came away as impressed as he thought he would.
"They're a heck of team. Very well deserving of their No. 5 rankings, at least in my opinion," Whittingham said. "Coach [David] Shaw haw has done a great job with those guys. It started with Coach [Jim] Harbaugh back when and when the torch was passed, Coach Shaw has maintained or even exceeded that level. Very impressed with what they're doing."
In doing his homework, Whittingham came to the same conclusion as several others in terms of Stanford's strength.
"In my estimation they're the most physical team in the Pac-12," he said. "But to our benefit, I guess you could say somewhat, we're pretty good at the line of scrimmage as well on both sides of the ball so we'll see how we stack up."
Fifth-year senior defensive end Josh Mauro, who wasn't even a starter until Henry Anderson got hurt in the second game of the season against Army, exemplifies just how talented Stanford is up front. Mauro was named to the Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List on Wednesday. He has three sacks, an interception and four tackles for a loss.
Shaw said he doesn't anticipate the altitude affecting his team very much. The Cardinal was seemingly unaffected in a 48-0 at Colorado last year and benefits from a heavy rotation, especially on defense.
"Hydration is huge and the fact this is one of those game, also, where playing a lot of guys helps," Shaw said. "You don't have a lot of guys from 60-plus snaps."
Stanford and Utah have played five times, with the most recent being a 17-10 Utah win in 1996. The Cardinal are 3-2 in the series, but neither team has won at home. Each has won twice on the opposing campus and Stanford won a neutral-site game in 1924 in Berkeley, Calif.