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Friday, October 10, 2003
Utah focusing on conference season


SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's elation over beating a ranked opponent for the first time in four years went away quickly.

Any disappointment the Utes feel about being left out of the Top 25 also is in the past. It's Mountain West Conference time.

"It's conference play. This won't be a challenge to get these guys going this week," Utah coach Urban Meyer said. "This is all our kids ever talk about."

The Utes (4-1, 1-0 MWC) open a stretch of six straight conference games when they host San Diego State (3-3, 0-1) on Saturday. Utah made an early jump in the MWC standings two weeks ago by beating defending champion Colorado State 28-21 in Fort Collins.

"They're the defending champions and to go beat them on their home turf was a significant win. However, I don't see anybody making it through this conference without a defeat," Meyer said. "There's too many good teams in this conference."

Air Force (5-1, 2-0) is the only other MWC team that hasn't lost a league game so far.

Utah is coming off a 17-13 win over Oregon last Friday that got the Utes some recognition by beating the No. 19-ranked Ducks. Although Utah didn't crack the AP poll this week, the Utes did go from zero poll points to 67 -- 21 shy of No. 25 Virginia.

"We're looking at it as we should be 5-0, but we're 4-1," cornerback Eric Weddle said. "We beat some good teams, but now it really counts."

Utah went 3-1 in non-conference games, beating Utah State, California and Oregon. The only loss was to Texas A&M in a game Utah was a late two-point conversion from tying.

But the Utes insist San Diego State, which had lost three straight in the series before beating Utah 36-17 last year, is bigger. Utah hasn't won a league title since tying for the MWC championship in 1999.

"It's a lot bigger because this one actually means something," Utah linebacker Zach Tune said. "A conference championship is all we care about."

Utah quarterback Brett Elliott made his first career start last season against the Aztecs and held the job for the rest of the season. He started the first two games of this season before breaking his wrist late in the A&M game and hasn't played since. Alex Smith has gone 3-0 as his replacement.

"They're a team that should be ranked," San Diego State coach Tom Craft said. "They're on a roll. They've got outstanding talent. They're doing a good job and they have a ton of momentum."

After opening the season 3-1, the Aztecs have lost two straight. San Diego State lost to UCLA 20-10 two weeks ago, then last week had a bit of a defensive meltdown against Brigham Young in a 44-36 loss.

The Aztecs did have a chance to tie it late with a touchdown and two-point conversion, which Craft said is progress even after allowing 418 yards to a BYU offense that has struggled.

"We've come a long way. I always look at those things," Craft said. "We're going to start winning here when we're ready to win. It might not be soon enough for some people. But I think as coaches we need to put it in perspective and not go through a similar situation at Utah."