In the interest of competitive football, Fresno State will make a nice addition to Utah’s schedules in 2014 and ‘15. As a substitute for BYU, Fresno State makes no sense at all.
If the point of suspending the rivalry with BYU for a couple of years was to balance the Utes’ schedule in the seasons when they’ll meet Michigan, how does playing the Bulldogs help? FSU is 9-3 this season, including a 69-14 win over Colorado. The Bulldogs’ losses were to Oregon, Tulsa and Boise State by a total of 28 points, so they’re at least as good as BYU — this year, anyway.
As Hill said in explaining the temporary end of the rivalry, “I can’t expect us to play 11 really, really difficult games in a season.”
So now the question becomes, which 2014-15 opponent is not “difficult” — Michigan or Fresno State?
When Hill — and undoubtedly, coach Kyle Whittingham is involved in this strategy — chose to not play BYU, I was expecting some downtrodden Mountain West team such as Colorado State or New Mexico to fill the vacancy. Instead, the Utes have booked a strong program that’s known for competing well against nonconference opponents.
As I said, I like this series from a viewership standpoint, but the logic behind it is lacking.
The only plausible merit of the home-and-home series with the Bulldogs is there’s less residual effect than playing BYU, in terms of the emotional nature of the rivalry. In 2012, Utah’s worst performance of the Pac-12 schedule came the week after the win over BYU, when the Utes played uninspired football in a 37-7 loss at Arizona State.
Maybe there’s also some benefit to skipping a couple of the years of the rivalry, to make us appreciate it more and view it in a more healthy manner. Personally, I’m convinced that fans on both sides will miss it.
Hundreds of Ute fans made that point in September, when they rushed the field (three times) to celebrate the 24-21 win over BYU. That won’t happen when Fresno State comes to town, although maybe it should.