When the news was released from the Utes’ camp that the University of Utah football team would not be scheduling BYU as one of their three out-of-conference games in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, mildly stated, the entirety of the BYU fanbase, their organization, and populace of Utah County was slightly displeased.
With every whimpering jeer, you got the feeling Cougar fans were about to lose the one thing they had left; their rivalry game.
To get a true sense of why this game means so much more to the Cougar fans in 2012 than it does to the Ute fans, one must understand three key points:
1. Utah Football is currently bigger than BYU Football.
2. There is an overwhelming feeling of jealousy Y fans harbor toward U fans which they internally deny.
3. Utah stands to lose the least if the “Holy War” were to be discontinued.
Let’s all be 100% honest with ourselves, right now.
There has been a drop-off in BYU Football. A fact which the old timers (fans of the Y that remember 1984) will confirm, wholeheartedly. To say that there hasn’t discredits and downplays the BYU teams of the 80’s and early 90’s. The last time the BYU football team was a recognized powerhouse in college football was in the 1996-’97 season. Coincidentally, that was also the only season the Cougars have ever played in a bowl game after January 1st – fun fact. You’re welcome.
There have been some not-too-horrible moments for the Cougars since then – The “Hail Mary” to beat the Utes in 2000 in LaVell Edwards’ last game, a win over Notre Dame in Provo in ’04. This tends to get lost in Gary Crowton’s and the Utes’ shadows, cast over that season in Y fans’ minds. “Beck to Harline” of ’06, the “Miracle on 4th and 18th in ’07,” and most definitely, the upset of #3 Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium in ’09.
I can’t think of many other games where the Cougar faithful saw their team win a game where everyone was emotionally invested and the stakes were high. In the last seven bowl games, in which Mendenhall has gone an impressive 5-2, the most impressive opponent was then #16 Oregon St. in the 2009 “Wind Bowl” (Las Vegas Bowl). No post-season struttin’ going on down in Provo.
That says a lot right there. Three of the biggest victories over the last 15 years of Cougar Football have been Utah rivalry games. What better reason for freaking out when Utah threatens cutting off the rivalry than this?
Sure, the Y may have only won six of the last 15 years but still, because BYU also has not beaten Utah by more than one score in those six wins, the BYU victories in the Holy War are, in most cases, down-to-the-wire, last-second winning-play, overtime thrillers that either wrench hearts or invoke joyful frenzies.
This 15 year slump illustrates a BYU perspective many fans are not willing to accept. The last time BYU was a dominant force in NCAA Football, 30-year-old Y fans were 15 years old. 20-year-old fans (those who would attend the school currently) were five years old.
How on earth could you go to BYU and not desperately crave an undefeated season and BCS success year in and year out? Especially with two years remaining to bust the “system” as a non-AQ.
Can you imagine how amazing it would have been to attend the University of Utah as a freshman in 2004 and then possibly be lucky enough to start attending the U’s graduate school 4 years later in 2008?
Oh, what an experience that would have been! How could any true football fan not envy that success?
I say with no shame at all that were the roles reversed and BYU was accomplishing what Utah has accomplished the last 10 years while Utah was earning 10 win seasons against WAC caliber talent, only to face the Tulsa’s and UTEP’s of the college football world, you’re darn right I’d be jealous!
Lastly, regarding Utah having less to lose from walking from the rivalry. I think this comes as a shock to no one.
Utah has yearly Pac 12 conference foes and more specifically, south division foes that they will play year in and out to compete for the Pac 12 Championship. Rivalries will naturally form given time, which Utah certainly has.
TCU-Utah became as big a game in the last three years Utah spent in the Mountain West Conference as the Holy War game itself because of the BCS implications.
What are the effects felt by the Y, on the other hand, should Utah walk?
The most glaring question is undoubtedly; “Who now fills BYU’s rivalry game void?” Utah State? Hawaii? Boise State?
BYU vs Boise State. Bronco vs the Broncos. South-side Mormons vs North-side Mormons.
I think that game has more potential than any other option BYU has to start another annual rivalry. Although, will BYU want Boise as a rival 10 years down the line? Who knows what the programs will look like then or in what conferences if there is continued shaking up of conferences in college football?
All things considered, the hiatus may be just that, a break in an otherwise steady flow that is the “Holy War”.
If the time comes where there is an end to the rivalry for good, I’m glad I am in the red corner.