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Colorado Springs, Colo. • Nice try, Air Force, but you couldn't ruin it. Let the most anticipated and nutty week of Utah football officially begin.

Utah survived another tough battle with the Falcons, winning 28-23 at Falcon Stadium in front of 37,211 fans, but it wasn't their thrilling defensive stand that was on the Utes' minds as they walked off the field Saturday.

It was TCU.

"Everything on my mind is purple right now," offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom said. With good reason.

Way back in July, when TCU and Utah were No. 1 and No. 2 in the Mountain West preseason poll, the November battle between the two was pegged as a game that could possibly decide the conference title.

Now the game looms larger than ever, as both the Horned Frogs and Utah (8-0, 5-0) enter the battle ranked in the top 10 and in the thick of the BCS race.

Who knows? After Saturday's upsets of No. 7 Missouri and No. 5 Michigan State, the survivor might be battling for more than just a shot at a BCS game.

The thought of a MWC team being in the BCS title game probably seems improbable, out of reach and downright incomprehensible to most who follow college football, but this season nothing should be ruled out as one mighty ranked team after another one has fallen.

By the time they took the field Saturday at Air Force (5-4, 3-3), the No. 8 Utes knew two previously unbeaten teams were beaten. They didn't want to be the third. Nor did they want the setup for the biggest game in Rice-Eccles Stadium to be ruined.

"It's going to be a showdown," Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn said of No. 4 TCU. "They kicked our butts last year and we need a good week of preparation, but we are very much looking forward to Saturday."

The Utes won't waste any time watching film of Air Force. After all, the game went almost to script in a rivalry typified by nailbiters.

Down 28-10, Air Force scored two touchdowns in a span of one minute, 12 seconds to keep their hopes of an upset alive.

The Utes could have put the Falcons away with a 42-yard field goal from Joe Phillips, but the most accurate kicker in conference watched his attempt hit the right upright with 3:21 remaining.

Twice Air Force had two possessions in the closing minutes, but couldn't advance any farther than its 35-yard line as Utah's defense held.

"That was a vintage Air Force game," a relieved Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It was typical of what we have had the last eight, 10 years. The defense had just enough in the tank to make the plays and get the win."

Air Force had 411 yards of offense to Utah's 327 yards, but the Utes were able to survive with a combination of key defensive plays highlighted by five takeaways and a sufficient effort on offense.

Both Lamar Chapman and Brandon Burton stripped the ball away following the completions of two long Air Force passes in the first quarter and Greg Bird forced a fumble in the second quarter that was recovered at Utah's 46-yard line.

In the second half, freshman Brian Blechen and senior Justin Taplin-Ross had interceptions. Blechen's came with less than five minutes remaining in the third when he stepped in front of Tim Jefferson's pass at the Falcons' 32-yard line and returned it to the 18-yard line.

Five plays later, Eddie Wide scored on a 1-yard run for his second touchdown of the night to give the Utes a 28-10 lead.

The lead would have been a comfortable one, against any other team.

"It was a little frustrating because we had a chance to put the opponent away," Whittingham said. "But the bottom line is when you are playing Air Force, you take a win any way, shape or form it comes. It's never perfect, but we are 8-0 — that is the bottom line."


R In short • Utah wins a slugfest against the Falcons, rushing 51 times for 179 yards.

KEY STAT • Utah's defense creates five Air Force turnovers — three fumbles and two interceptions.

KEY MOMENT • Utah freshman Brian Blechen intercepts an Air Force pass, and Eddie Wide scores from a yard out on Utah's next possession to give the Utes a 28-10 lead in the third quarter.

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