AMES, Iowa -- No. 4 Boise State has already handled the likes of Virginia Tech and Oregon State. Fifth-ranked TCU has looked every bit the national title contender in jumping out to a 5-0 start.
Sometime in the last month, folks seemed to have stopped talking about Utah.
Sure, the 10th-ranked and unbeaten Utes generated some buzz with a thrilling overtime win over Pittsburgh in their opener, but they've since slipped back into relative obscurity even though they've outscored their last three opponents 150-27. It's tough to judge the Utes against overmatched UNLV, New Mexico and San Jose State.
The Utes (4-0, 2-0 Mountain West) get another crack at a BCS conference team tonight when they visit Iowa State (3-2, 1-1 Big 12), which many will view as a measuring stick for Utah even if they're not looking at it that way.
"As far as having something to prove? No, I don't think we take that attitude," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The game seems an odd matchup. It was pushed back to accommodate last month's meeting between the Cyclones and Kansas State in Kansas City, and the return date at Utah has already been scrapped since both teams will have an extra league game in 2011.
A loss would likely wipe out any hope Utah has for sneaking into the national title game. The Utes might also suffer in the polls if they don't bury the Cyclones; TCU, after all, stomped the Big 12's Baylor 45-10.
Iowa State might be better than people think, though.
The Cyclones have only played one ranked team so far, losing to No. 15 Iowa 35-7 in a game that wasn't even that close. But their offense finally found some rhythm in a 52-38 win over Texas Tech last week, racking up 441 yards of offense and 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads knows how dangerous Utah can be. He was the defensive coordinator for Pittsburgh when the Utes trounced the Panthers 35-7 in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, and this week he marveled at the winning culture that's been established at Utah.
"They play the game so fast. That doesn't mean they're blessed with a bunch of (fast) athletes. It's a team that understands exactly what is they're supposed to do in all phases and plays it lights out," Rhoads said.
Utah ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring (44.2 points per game) and scoring defense (12.8 ppg). Quarterback Jordan Wynn appears to have recovered from the thumb injury that cost him two games, completing 14 of 18 passes in a 56-3 win over San Jose State on Sept. 25. Utah was idle last week, and that could be bad news for Iowa State. The Utes are 15-2 under Whittingham when they've had more than a week to prep for a game, 5-0 after a bye week.
"They're a focused group. They pay attention to detail, they've got a great work ethic," Whittingham said.
Next season, Utah will ditch the Mountain West for the new Pac-12 and leave behind the days when its national reputation was based largely on how it fared outside of its own league.
For the rest of this year, though, games like Saturday night's road tilt against Iowa State and a Nov. 13 trip to Notre Dame will be weighted heavily by poll voters and the public.
All Utah can do is keep winning and hope that's enough.
"Our mentality is to prove ourselves each and every week, regardless of who we're playing. We don't approach this game any differently," Whittingham said.