Was Saturday The "End" of The Brigham Young Cougars-Utah Utes Rivalry? No Way!

The Brigham Young Cougars and Utah Utes finished another hard fought game that went down to the wire and had an unexpected ending. With BYU embarking on independence next year, and Utah joining the Pac-12, many have surmised that the “Holy War” is dead, over, done. This year was the end of the rivalry. Those taking this position argue that not playing in the same conference, that Utah gaining a recruiting advantage, and that the game no longer being played in November are the causes of death. To that, there is only one answer: NO WAY! The BYU-Utah rivalry will live on. It is greater than the two schools sharing the same conference affiliation, the games being competitive, and the placement of the game on the schedule.

The rivalry, supposedly, will lack appeal for not having a conference championship on the line when BYU and Utah meet. If that is the case, then the rivalry didn’t start until 1981, and it died two years ago in 2008. Those were the first and last years that the winner would win the conference outright, or a share of the conference championship.

Rivalries across the country stretch beyond the limits of conference affiliation. Texas and Oklahoma was one of the sports greatest rivalries long before they were in both in the Big 12. Florida State-Miami weren’t conference mates until Miami came to the ACC a few years ago. USC-Notre Dame is another. If that isn't enough, don't forget about Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech, and TCU-SMU.

Believe it or not, there are bigger things out there in college football than a conference championship. They are called a national championship and a BCS bowl. Now, national championship hopes are on the line. More so for Utah than BYU, but the fact remains that Utah as a member of a BCS AQ conference can realistically expect a spot in the BCS national championship game if they are undefeated. Look at Oregon. However, to be undefeated, Utah will have to beat BYU.  Maybe Utah doesn't win the Pac-12, they can still fight for an at large selection. A loss to BYU might be the deciding factor that keeps them out. BYU may have a special team assembled and the perfect schedule to make a run for a top two ranking in the BCS. In this day and age, BYU and Utah will know about either sides’ national championship hopes, aspirations, and possibility well before the season starts.

Maybe the national championship isn’t much of an issue in a particular year, there are still the national rankings. BYU could beat Utah, but both teams finish the year with identical 10-2 records. Will BYU be ranked ahead of Utah? Or will the poll voters favor Utah’s “tougher” conference schedule and put Utah ahead?

The point is, there are still hot button issues beyond the field of play that will keep players and fans’ interest piqued even if the Utes and the Cougars don't share the same goal to win the same conference championship. 

The BYU-Utah rivalry has been very, very competitive since the 1993 season. Just as we saw on Saturday, the games typically go down to the wire and require someone to step up and be the hero or the goat. Those players have ranged from the star skill players to little known kickers and return men. Somehow, many people think that these fantastic finishes will stop once Utah reaps the recruiting benefits of the Pac-12 label. Whether this hypothesis proves to be real or imaginary, it won’t mean the end to the rivalry.

Up until 1993, this rivalry never was competitive. It was either dominated by Utah or BYU. Each side has enjoyed a nine game win streak Even though the rivalry wasn’t competitive, there are plenty of examples that illustrate that the game meant a lot to the players and fans involved.

1953—BYU and Utah faced off for the 29th time. BYU had won exactly once. The two teams had tied on just four other occasions. The game ended with a score of 33-32. The jubilation on the BYU side was so great that the players carried head coach Chick Atkinson off the field. The catch: BYU was not the victor. Utah had won.

1992—BYU cruised out to a 31-0 lead. Yawn. Nothing new. BYU was about to win its fourth in a row (none closer than 23 points), and 19th of the last 21. Rather than pack up and go home, the Utah crowd tried to make the game bearable by throwing snowballs from the stands at BYU players.

Do we really think that this series has to be competitive for it to be meaningful to those involved?

We have gotten used to seeing BYU-Utah at the end of the schedule. This has not always been the case. It is true that the majority of the games have been played in November (53), including 46 of the last 47 meetings. However, almost half of these 46 November match ups were not the last game that BYU played (22 times, 24 if you count the years that BYU played in the WAC Championship game). On ten occasions, BYU played two or more games after playing Utah.

BYU and Utah had become rivals long before 1964 when the game has been played almost exclusively in November. November would be my preference for this game, but it is not the lynch pin holding this rivalry together. Going back to the other cross conference rivalries noted, Texas and Oklahoma always play in October. Florida State and Miami play in the first half of the year. USC and Notre Dame is played in October one year and in November the next.

Playing the game early also adds to the possibility for controversy in the national rankings later in the year. That keeps the rivalry relevant between the two fan bases into October and November, even if the game has already been played.

If sharing the same conference, retaining a competitive balance, and playing the game in November aren't the life blood in this rivalry, what is?

The "Holy War" will remain the biggest game of the year for both BYU and Utah for the near and distant future for the following reasons:

  • It will still divide families. One family member will attend the U and a few years later another will attend the Y, thus splitting the allegiance of families for the rest of their mortal lives.
  • It will still have the “Church vs. State” slant. There is no way to remove it. As long as BYU is the flagship University of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and BYU makes football decisions based on increasing exposure for the Church.
  • It will still be a game between two schools located close to each other. The geographic proximity cannot be changed. Nor can it be ignored. BYU and Utah alumni come into contact with each other daily. Each time they come across each other, the outcome of the last game matters. Life is much more pleasant when you have those bragging rights.
  • It will still feature a Utah team coached by a disproportionate amount of former BYU players. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham, Co-offensive Coordinator Aaron Roderick, and Defensive Coordinator Kalani Sitake all played for BYU. That is the core of any team’s coaching staff. It hurts to lose to your enemy, but to have your former players leading the charge makes it worse.
Some of the details surrounding the game will change, but the underlying factors that make the rivalry bigger than any other game will remain in tact. September 17, 2011, is already circled on my calendar.

Other recent posts on BYU FOOTBALL TALK:
Game Recap: Utah 17, BYU 16
Game Preview: BYU vs. Utah
Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 34, Utah 27 (2000)
Thursday Trivia: Last Win Against Utah By More Than Seven Points
Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 45, Utah 22 (1990)
Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 38, Utah 28 (1985)
Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 56, Utah 6 (1980)
Poll Results: If BYU Wins The Last Two Games, Should Bronco be the MWC Coach of the Year?
Remembering the Rivalry: BYU 51, Utah 20 (1975)


  1. Another cross conference rivalry you didn't mention was USC/Ohio State.

    People who think a conference championship must be online are clueless. Are they even paying attention to this very year? No conference championship was online, yet it was still a big deal to both sides. The year 2000 was the same way.

    Also, look no further than the BYU-Utah State rivalry. It has been early in the year, cross-conference, and uncompetitive for more than a decade. Yet, to beat BYU this year was a big deal to USU.

    As for recruiting, I doubt that Utah will get that much of an edge. BYU, as most know, have a unique recruiting niche (due to the honor code), and so I do not think it really matters. BYU will keep getting the kind of players they usually do. BYU stays relevant nationally not because they have great recruiting classes year after year, but because the coaching staff finds young men who will fit the program and develops them into the kind of players that can succeed in BYU's system (and culture).


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