Utah-BYU football game will have lasting impact
For the first time, the University of Utah's Travis Wilson and Brigham Young University's Taysom Hill will take the field Saturday night in Provo as starting quarterbacks in the rivalry game.
The sophomores will never meet again in college football.
That's how the math works in the historic series, which will be interrupted for two seasons by Utah's choice. The schedule creates an unusual dynamic in Saturday's game, with the losing side having to live with the outcome for nearly three years.
The schools have met annually since 1922, except for three years during World War II when BYU didn't field a team. Saturday's contest will end a continuous 68-year run of a rivalry that has grown in competitiveness and intensity, with six of the last eight games decided on the final play Â a pass into the end zone or a missed field-goal attempt. Utah has won the last three meetings.
"This is the last time I am going to have an opportunity to beat those guys, so my mentality is different going into a game like this," Hill said.
"Definitely, there will be some added intensity to it," said BYU defensive back Skye PoVey. "It is known as one of the biggest rivalries in college football, and it is the last [meeting] for a while."
Yet when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was asked if the break in the series gives Saturday's game any different aura, he said, "No, not to me."
That answer, which came early Sunday following the Utes' 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State, reflected Whittingham's approach of preparing his team the same way for every game, regardless of its perceived importance. Whittingham and Ute athletic director Chris Hill are responsible for interrupting the series in an effort to balance Utah's schedule and ease the program's transition into the Pac-12 Conference. With nine conference games, the Utes have three slots to fill each year.
"I'd love to keep the rivalry going, but I know we have a greater goal in the conference," said former Ute star Jamal Anderson, a Pac-12 Networks analyst.
"I can't expect us to play 11 really, really difficult games in a season," Chris Hill said in July 2012, explaining the break in the rivalry. Prior to that announcement, Chris Hill had scheduled games with traditional power Michigan in '14 and '15. Later, he added a series with Fresno State in those seasons. Utah also will play Idaho State in '14 and Utah State in '15.
Saturday's Utah-BYU game remained intact in the process, as did a scheduled '16 meeting. In July, the schools agreed to play in '17 and '18, with the '18 game booked for the rivalry's former late-November date, filling an opening in the Pac-12 schedule.
In any case, BYU's levels of motivation and pressure going into Saturday's game are increased by those three-straight losses to Utah.
"If BYU loses again, it'll be much harder for them," former Ute coach Ron McBride said, during a break in his weekly radio show with retired BYU coach LaVell Edwards. "You've got players that have played there for three years and haven't beaten Utah, so that'll be their last memory, and I think that makes it more important for them probably than for Utah."
Edwards partly agrees, although he believes the move of the rivalry game to September creates less of a lingering effect than in the past for the players and coaches, anyway. After facing the Utes, BYU will have high-profile games with Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame remaining in a challenging schedule during its third season of independence. Utah will play eight more Pac-12 opponents, including highly ranked UCLA and Stanford at home in early October.
Even so, the rivalry is meaningful to both sides. "BYU's always a fun game," said Ute tight end Jake Murphy.
As for overcoming the effects of the Oregon State defeat, Murphy said, "You've got to do all you can to trick yourself into forgetting those losses."
That will be the challenge for fans of BYU or Utah, as of next Saturday.
Tribune reporter Jay Drew contributed to this story.
Utah at BYU
P Saturday, 8:15 p.m. TV • ESPN2
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