Every year, the Pac-12 South division has had at least one team better than Utah.

This is the eighth season that Utah and Colorado have been in the conference, and Utah is still the only team in the South that's never earned a spot in the Pac-12 title game.

Throughout their time in the conference, however, the Utes have earned a reputation for being a tough, physical team that won't be easy to beat.

The one constant? Head coach Kyle Whittingham, in his 14th season with the Utes, is the longest-tenured coach in the conference. Stanford's David Shaw, in his eighth year, is second on the list.

"He's an excellent coach and I think he's one of the best coaches in our league," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said of Whittingham, who will lead his 21st-ranked Utes (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) into Folsom Field on Saturday against the Buffs (5-5, 2-5).

Although Utah has never won the South, it is often in contention for it in mid-November. Currently, the Utes are alone in first in the South, a half game ahead of Arizona and Arizona. If the Utes win this weekend and couple that with one ASU loss in the next two weeks, they will finally win the South.

Utah is in this position because it once again has a hard-nosed defense and a talented offensive line. MacIntyre credited Whittingham's success in recruiting talented Polynesian players, and also pointed to the fact that the Utes often have older players who have returned from missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


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"They're a much older team than most teams we play," MacIntyre said.

They're also more physical than most.

"They're extremely big up front on both sides of the ball," MacIntyre said. "Defensively and offensively, their lines are so powerful."

CU put its toughness on display in a 28-21 win against Arizona State on Oct. 6. That was the best game of the season for the Buffs' offensive line. Since then, however, the Buffs have been pushed around up front. To beat the Utes, they'll need to rediscover the toughness that got them to 5-0.

"Tough, physical football," quarterback Steven Montez said when asked to describe Colorado football. "Physical is a key word. That is a word we have been focusing on this week. We know we have to play physical football up front and at all skill positions, as well, if we want to be successful."

Emotional week

Approaching their final game at Folsom Field, several CU seni ors are experiencing some emotions this week.

Senior linebacker Rick Gamboa said that after each home game lately it has hit him that the end is near.

"I know it's going to start hitting me more and more the closer we get to game day," he said. "When we run out to the field for the last time, I know I'll probably be pretty emotional about it. I'm just going to have fun while I can."

Notable

MacIntyre said this week that cornerback Delrick Abrams Jr. and safety Evan Worthington, who are both starters, will not play against Utah because of concussions. Offensive lineman Frank Fillip, who has started two games, is also likely to miss the game with a concussion. ... CU had hoped to get punter Alex Kinney back at some point this season, but he is now ruled out and plans to redshirt. A fourth-year senior, he broke his collarbone on Sept. 8. ... Since the start of the 2015 season, Utah is 19-16 in Pac-12 play, with 11 of the losses by a single score.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33