Though Utah has played six games already, this will be only their second real test of the season. I guess you could say Colorado State was a test because it came on the road, but the Falcons are much better and have been historically the Utes' kryptonite.
This is why I'm pumped. I like these games. For the past few weeks, we've ambled through contests we knew Utah would win. Sure, they made it interesting against the Rams, but no one really thought we were going to lose before things got interesting there in the third quarter.
The last time the Utes faced such a situation was the third week of the season and they lost. But it wasn't an ugly loss and came against what has turned out to be a really good Oregon team. Had that game been played in Salt Lake, does anyone really doubt Utah isn't 6-0 at this juncture? I don't.
That loss also showed Utah wasn't ready just yet to continue its BCS-busting ways. Maybe they're still not, but at least the Falcons will show us if they've made any positive movement since that game in Eugene. Which is important, because if the Utes are going to have any hope of winning the Mountain West, they will need to step up their play. A solid win over Air Force would suggest that this team is slowly getting it together. Hell, even a close win would prove they're doing more things right than wrong.
And that's a start.
With how the season has gone, I really don't know what to expect Saturday. I feel the Utes will win and would be surprised if they lost because it's at home, but then I realize this is the team that gave them their last home loss back in 2007.
That was an ugly game where Utah, even as shorthanded as they were, should have won. In fact, they had a chance to tie it at the end and crumbled at the goal-line. It was a miserable performance that really gave the Falcons a much needed shot in the arm and pushed them toward their best season since the Fisher DeBerry glory years of the 80s and late-90s.
But that has fizzled a bit. Air Force isn't in the top-three like they were that season and probably won't join those ranks unless they can - like in '07 - beat Utah in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Which means this game is just as big for them as it is for the Utes. They need a win because 4-4 is not a good start and would put them at only a few losses from falling out of bowl contention.
Again, though, I like that. I like when games mean something. I like when both teams are playing for a common goal and one isn't giving up because they've reached seven losses on the season or are already mathematically eliminated from winning the conference championship. We've pretty much been there in four of the six games Utah has played so far and I'm ready for one that actually means something.
This will be the first home game since BYU where the atmosphere will actually be sprinkled with a tinge of doubt. Now in most cases, doubt is bad. However, if it's mixed with excitement and importance, it means you're doing something right. It means you're at high-level. It means the game means something.
Which builds the atmosphere even more. The fans understand how much this game will mean to Utah's season. The fact it's pretty much the last big (so to speak) home game of the year should give them even more incentive to be in it. My hope is that the team uses this as a springboard to a really good win. A win that erases a great deal of that doubt and lays the foundation for the needed confidence to end the season on an extremely high note.