Newly ranked Utes will be watching their backs

Updated: October 20, 2003, 8:21 PM ET

SALT LAKE CITY -- University of Utah football players said their four remaining opponents will be gunning for an upset now that the Utes are nationally ranked.

"Now, we have a target on our chests. We've got to keep our composure with the Top 25," said defensive lineman Sione Pouha.

Utah (6-1, 3-0 Mountain West Conference) entered The Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 24 after a 28-10 win over UNLV on Saturday.

The wait to be among the nation's elite football teams was a little longer than some thought.

"I do think it's past due. The recognition has legitimized us a bit," said Utah head coach Urban Meyer Monday.

The Utes lingered for two weeks in the "others receiving votes" category of the poll after wins over then-19th ranked Oregon and San Diego State before cracking the poll Sunday.

The team is off to its best start since 1999, when they posted the same record. However, they haven't been in the Top 25 since 1996, when the Utes opened the season 7-1 and were ranked as high as No. 20.

Utah quarterback Alex Smith, who threw for 204 yards and rushed for 97 in the UNLV win, said the ranking was great for the excitement surrounding the team and the atmosphere on campus, but it's not time to celebrate just yet.

"We can't get lazy," he warned.

A conference championship has been a larger goal for Utah this year. The Utes are undefeated in Mountain West play and can control their destiny by winning the last four conference games.

That road starts Saturday when Utah plays host to New Mexico. After that, Utah is at Air Force, faces Wyoming at home and then plays at Brigham Young.

Smith said the Utes have the capability and the talent level to win the rest of their games if they stay focused.

"It's been one of our goals, to be ranked ... it doesn't change the way we play," added Pouha.

Center Max Peterson feels the same way and he's looking ahead to even bigger goals.

"It's nice, it would be nicer to be in the top 10," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index