Two programs that haven’t felt the crush of national attention lately -- Utah and Cal -- find themselves in the spotlight this week with their surprisingly anticipated game looming Saturday in Salt Lake City.
And both coaches are doing their best to keep their players focused on the reasons why they are undefeated -- not relishing the fact they are.
"It's almost like living in a biosphere or a dome," Utah head coach Whittingham said, via Kareem Copeland of the Associated Press. "You've got people tapping on the glass and looking in at you. You've just got to block it out and go about your business and not let it affect you because it can be a distraction."
No. 23 Cal, which is just a one and a half seasons removed from a 1-11 campaign, brings a 5-0 start to No. 5 Utah, where the Bears face the 4-0 Utes with ESPN’s College GameDay in town.
"We were ranked last and we didn't talk about it," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said, via Josh Dubow of the Associated Press. "Now that we aren't ranked last we're not going to talk about it either."
But that doesn’t mean players from each side don’t recognize the significance of what’s at stake. A victory would keep the winning team relevant in the College Football Playoff discussion -- something that will be extremely important for the Pac-12 as it continues to ravage itself from the inside out.
"We're trying to stay in the national conversation," Cal wide receiver Bryce Treggs said. "We understand if we beat a great Utah team, we'll obviously move up in the charts. We're viewing this as a good opportunity to go in the national spotlight and make a statement."
Despite being favorites by almost a touchdown, Utah players said they are still clinging to the underdog role. It’s a position they’ve held for the last couple years anyway. And they aren’t ready to embrace the frontrunner mentality just yet.
“I kind of look at it as we're still the underdog,” Utah running back Devontae Booker said. “It don't matter if we're No. 5 or whatever. We still have to go out there and win games if we want to be the best and win it all.”
And since no Utah story is complete without mentioning special teams, here’s an interesting link -- also from the Associated Press -- on the success rate of coaches icing kickers. Arizona kicker Casey Skowron is quoted a couple times, calling the practice of icing kickers “a coin flip.”