My final thoughts about the Utah-BYU football rivalry — until next September, when Utah is playing Fresno State …
• There’s no more competitive series in college football. As of Utah’s 20-13 victory Saturday, 14 of the last 17 games have been decided by seven points or fewer. If BYU’s Cody Hoffman had not dropped a pass on the first play of BYU’s last series, this could have become the seventh game in nine years that was decided on the final play.
• The players care about the rivalry. There was genuine joy among the Utes after they beat BYU, as there should be. The Pac-12 schedule is important to Utah, and those games are fun to watch, but the Utes’ affiliation doesn’t have to diminish the value of in-state play. Anyone who believes the Utes have outgrown the rivalry should reread those quotes from quarterback Travis Wilson and receiver Dres Anderson about how much the victory meant to them.
• As I wrote prior to the season, three in-state wins and three Pac-12 wins would make Utah’s season successful. The defeats of Utah State and BYU were stressful enough, but now comes the tough part. The Utes need to win two of the next six games: UCLA, Stanford, at Arizona, at USC, Arizona State, at Oregon. That would leave them needing one win in the final two games (at Washington State, home for Colorado) to become bowl-eligible.
• BYU now is in a position of having do the bowl-eligibility math. The Cougars (1-2) should beat Middle Tennessee, Houston and Idaho State. The finale at Nevada is another good possibility. So BYU needs to pick off one victory from among this group: Utah State, Georgia Tech, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. None of those games is overwhelming, but none shapes up as a probable win, either.
• Taysom Hill’s passing is a problem. I overestimated the BYU quarterback’s ability, based on his 24-of-36 game against USU last season. Think about this: With his 35-percent accuracy (40 of 114) through three games, Hill would have to complete his next 34 passes just to reach 50 percent — which is far below the industry standard. Dropped passes are an issue, but Hill has flaws that may not be easily fixed. He’s a phenomenal runner, though.
• The “Blue Zone” should be banned. BYU is not allowed to use its own label for the area inside the opponent’s 20-yard line until the Cougars become more efficient there. BYU produced one touchdown and two field goals on five such trips against Utah, missing a field-goal try and being stopped on fourth down.
• After the craziest rivalry week I’ve experienced, I would welcome the two-year break in the series if I actually thought each school’s fans would become less obsessed with hoping for the other program to fail. I don’t see that happening.
• Twitter was buzzing after the game about Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham not shaking hands. And then the Tribune print edition landed on my driveway Sunday morning, with a big A-1 photo of the coaches doing so.