The other day I spoke with a Utah fan who was on a roll.
He said he couldn't wait for the Utes to go down to Provo on Saturday and "disassemble" and "embarrass" the Cougars in their own building, in front of their own fans. He said the Utes weren't perfect, but they were a "whole helluva lot better" than BYU. He said Kyle Whittingham was a "smarter" coach than Bronco Mendenhall. He said he thought Mendenhall was "from a different planet" and that he had "strange thoughts" and "talked weird." He said Norm Chow was "savvier" than Brandon Doman. He said he was "worried about" Jordan Wynn, but that Jake Heaps was a "baby" and a "legend in his own mind." He said BYU's defense was "decent," but it "doesn't have the athletes" that Utah has. He said the Utes had "earned their way into the Pac-12" and that BYU had "done nothing" to warrant the same consideration, and had "done nothing" in the past two decades to "make them worthy," and he laughed when he used that last word. He said he had friends who were Cougar fans and that they were "cool," but that they were also "the exception." He said many BYU fans are "uninformed and delusional nerds" who "overestimate the reach of BYU football" and who think "their team has some divine mission." He also said he "hated Max Hall for hating him," but that he "understood."
Whoever said the Utah-BYU football rivalry is dead or damaged or significantly different hasn't asked around. The example above is anecdotal, just one voice, but there are about a million probably more other voices out there just like it.
A century-old rivalry doesn't disappear because administrators in different states decide to include one school in their conference and not the other, or because the one not included decides to go independent. Not as long as both schools continue to prioritize football, and that's a consequential pivot point.
Some on the Utah side say the Utes have bigger concerns now, that their league opponents are more important than BYU. Some on the BYU side say the Cougars have a bigger brand than the Utes, regardless of league affiliation, and that they should schedule away from Utah.
But those arguments themselves stem from the antipathy of the rivalry.
Conference games should be hugely important to the Utes, what with a shot at a championship and the Rose Bowl available to them in their better years. But as Whittingham recently pointed out, in the WAC and the MWC, the rivalry game rarely had championship implications, and, yet, it was always a big deal. Just because league games are important doesn't mean the rivalry game wouldn't be.
Utah and BYU fans who say the Utes and Cougars don't need to play one another are being too sensitive, being snobs or running scared.
The fact that Utah plays in the Pac-12 and that BYU doesn't could actually add to the rivalry. The game is the only annual evidence as to who is better. No longer are there comparisons of results against a string of common opponents to soften the sting of a head-to-head loss.
A concession: The timing of the game does have some impact on it. Facing off in the third week of September, in a contest wedged between games with Texas and Central Florida and USC and Washington (after a bye), does give it more of a conveyor-belt feel. A counter to that is, even in the past, the rivalry game came in a hurry, just a week after facing some other league foe.
Another downside to the timing: We know far less about these teams in Week 3 than we would in Week 12. But a surprise element in a wild-card-kind-of way isn't all bad. This game, then, could have a heavy impact on both teams, shaping them into what they will become.
Some say, if the Pac-12 won't allow Utah to play BYU in November, they should find a way to play in Week 1, thereby providing an entire offseason of anticipation. It's an idea worth considering, although the season opener might provide an excess of wild card, transforming it into crapshoot.
As is, playing Saturday night, the anticipation is building still. By game time, it will be off the charts, same as usual. In the moment, the rivalry game will be as intense as it ever was, whether it's 5 degrees outside or 65, whether turkey is on the table or the leaves have barely begun to turn color.
Here's why: Because both of these schools see themselves as great institutions, both of these football programs purport themselves to be great. And both of these fan bases tie their identity and self-esteem to the success of the teams. Add in that the schools are 50 miles apart, and that, in many cases, red fans live 50 feet away from blue fans, that their yards touch, that their apartment walls are shared, that they work together in the same office, that their lives, in one way or another, are connected, there is no way this rivalry is diminished.
Some college rivalries are intense. This one is more than that. Some rivalry games are played for brass spittoons or iron skillets or pig statuettes. This one is played for a sense of superiority and justification and, in some people's minds, a way of life.
I've never liked the label "Holy War," because too often the religion thing around here is overplayed. There are many Mormons Whittingham, Chow, Kalani Sitake among them who want nothing other than to see BYU get crushed by the Utes.
The Utah fan I quoted above is a Mormon bishop.
A hundred years of momentum isn't suddenly diverted, altered or tossed aside by whom one school associates with, or which league it plays in, or what bowl game it shoots for, or a date on a calendar. No â¦ it rolls forward, just like it will on Saturday night.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
• BYU says the series started in 1922.
• Utah says it began in 1896.
• BYU doesn't recognize the six initial games, three won by Utah, three by BYU.
• BYU says the overall record is 31-51-4, favoring Utah.
• Utah says the overall record is 54-34-4, favoring Utah.
• Series record in the last 40 years: 14-26, favoring BYU.
• Series record in the last 20 years: 11-9, favoring Utah.
• Utah says this is the first time teams are playing as nonconference foes in 113 years.
• BYU says this is the first time teams are playing as nonconference foes.
• Sept. 17 is the earliest date the teams have ever met.