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Utah's Utes have created a national stir, finding themselves among the top 10 teams of some power polls and sitting at the pinnacle of a few others. That's right, there are informed observers of college football who believe Utah is either the best team in the country or it has the best résumé at this juncture, a third of the way through the schedule.

One longtime, respected writer in California who a couple of seasons ago said he thought it would take the Utes a quarter of a century to qualify for a berth in the Rose Bowl placed Utah not only No. 1 in his ranking after Saturday night's impressive win at Oregon, but also on the bullet train to new possibilities.

That's a compliment to a program that, on the whole, has made great progress in the past decade, that is meeting the challenge of new opportunity in the Pac-12, that has potential for sustained success in the years ahead and that in the specific, right now, is caroming through perception's boundaries, edging up through the ranks of the nation's football hierarchy.

And if it loses to Cal a week from Saturday at Rice-Eccles, it will be a pack of dogs that underperformed, betraying its talent and itself.

That's the flip side to the vagaries of perception, and to an almost preposterous 62-20 win over the Ducks on their home field in a building where they never lose. It creates responsibility to replicate the performance. Even if the Utes cared not one iota about what people on the outside think of them — which, of course, they do, because in college football, opinion still plays a huge role in postseason opportunity — they are now beholden to themselves, to the nationally televised standard they have set for themselves.

Anybody who watched Saturday night's win knows, despite the recalibration of the Ducks and their devalued status from the accomplishments of the recent past, that result was no fluke. Utah beat them on the beaches, beat them on the landing grounds, beat them in the fields and in the streets, beat them in the hills. Beat them every which way a team can beat an opponent.

Travis Wilson had the best showing of his career, making terrific decisions, throwing the ball deep, running for 100 yards and accounting for four touchdowns. "That's a big reason we're 4-0, the quarterback play," Kyle Whittingham said. "When we throw the ball the way we did Saturday, it makes us a complete offense." Against Oregon, Wilson hit nine different receivers and made it look easy.

Maybe that's the problem here.

It's not easy.

Running through the rest of the league schedule will be hard, in the way summiting a mountain is hard. Experienced climbers say they get used to the difficulty of the ascent, always studying the next few feet, never presuming anything, never letting their guard down.

In the Pac-12, the Utes are scaling the face of K2.

And there's no bullet train to board.

Whittingham knows this. He knows the consequences of getting sloppy and satisfied. Letting that happen would be, as he put it, "stupid."

"You can't start thinking you've got all the answers," he said. "You can't win a big game and start thinking you've arrived, because you haven't. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. That's stupid. We've got to understand we played a good football game, build off it, repeat the things we did in the preparation process. The game was won long before Saturday. The game was won Monday through Friday. Our guys have to understand that. We've got to get back to work. As soon as you back off a little bit and think you've got answers, start projecting, 'We're going to do this, we're going to do that,' somebody's going to smack you. And so you've got to keep your focus, keep your work ethic, keep the same preparation process, you've got to attack it one day at a time. One by one by one."

Everybody on the outside can project all they — all we — want, can expect whatever they — whatever we — want to project, and that's OK. But for the coaches and players, the cliché of taking it one game at a time carries weight because it is so true.

Whittingham gave his players the bye week off. He must be confident that the leadership on this team is strong enough to handle that kind of freedom, to heal up without getting fatheaded.

A burden and a blessing for the Utes is that they have revealed how talented they are. They're strong in the trenches, fast on the perimeter, complete on offense and defense, they can run it and throw it and defend it. They can do all of those things. The challenge now is doing it week after week. Former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy said: "The difference between being good and being great is consistency."

Utah will have its shot, then, at being great. If it stays healthy and dialed in, it's good enough to be great. But like the climber on the cliff, edging forward, edging onward, edging upward, both the peak and the abyss beckon.

Where the Utes end up is up to them.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.