In many ways, Utah is the football program CSU aspires to be.
A 12-0 season last year, capped off by a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama and a 2004 Fiesta Bowl trophy, has catapulted Utah into the national talks of powerhouse football teams — conversations CSU wants to be a part of.
The Rams (3-2, 0-1 MWC) can take a big step in he Utes (3-1) Saturday at Hughes Stadium.
“We talk about getting back to where we want to be, but the burden of proof is on us — eventually we’re going to have to win a game,” head coach Steve Fairchild said.
Wins have been hard to come by against Utah since Kyle Whittingham took over as head coach after the 2004 season. Now in his fifth year, Whittingham has led the Utes to a 40-15 record, including 4-0 in bowl games.
Whittingham has also built a team strong on talent and depth. Three members of the Ute defense last year were drafted, including defensive end Paul Kruger and cornerback Sean Smith in the second round.
And the Ute defense this season, in Fairchild’s eyes, hasn’t suffered.
“They take Paul Kruger off that line and they don’t miss a beat. They lose a couple guys in that secondary and they dont miss a beat,” Fairchild said. “That’s where he’s got that program. He’s done a nice job. I admire what he’s done at Utah.”
The Rams are looking to snap a three-game skid against the Utes.
Their last win against Utah came in October of 2005, a 21-17 triumph highlighted by a goal line stand. Senior safety Klint Kubiak was a freshman playing special teams during the Rams’ win four years ago.
“I’ll never forget it. I know what it did for us that year as far as our confidence and it really turned the year around for us and it will do the same when we beat them on Saturday,” Kubiak said.
The Rams are also trying to avoid a three-game losing streak this season coming off consecutive losses at BYU and Idaho.
“It’s to the point where we’re sick of losing,” senior offensive lineman Tim Walter said.
Walter and the offensive line have the tough task ahead of blocking the talented and big defensive line led by 6-foot-3, 263 pound, defensive end Koa Misi.
“If you’re an offensive lineman on this football team, this is a big week. Blocking ‘Joe Schmo’ is one thing, blocking Koa Misi is another,” Fairchild said.
Hughes Stadium may see the largest crowd in three years and possibly since 2004 when Minnesota came to town, which drew 33,400 fans. A full student-body section is a welcome sight to Fairchild.
“I love our student body. I’m so proud to walk in there. They’re great, so we’ve just got to put a good product on the field for them,” Fairchild said.
Confidence is not eluding the Rams, but until CSU defeats Utah, all the team can do is imagine a win.
“I think we think we can (win), but eventually now one of these days we’ve got to know we can,” Fairchild said.
Football Beat Reporter Stephen Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.