BYU-Utah rivalry will likely thrive, no matter league affiliation
So what if conference affiliations have changed and it will be warm enough Saturday to tailgate in shorts. The Utah-BYU rivalry appears to be as fierce as ever.
Worries that Utah's move to the Pac-12 would lessen the intensity of the BYU-Utah game were all for naught, say those who are involved in the game or follow college rivalries.
Hate, or extreme dislike if you prefer a kinder term, doesn't know such technicalities of conference alliances or calendar dates, they insist.
Like Colorado-Colorado State, Florida-Florida State or Georgia-Georgia Tech, the proximity of the schools and the history are what make college rivalries special, not the logos the teams wear on their sleeves.
"It might be different because you're not in the same conference competing for the title, but it's the same rivalry," Utah linebacker Chaz Walker said. "There are still those bragging rights of beating BYU. It's for the whole state and all those fans."
Saturday's game marks the first time in 113 years that Utah and BYU will play as nonconference opponents.
Utah says it leads the series 54-34-4, but BYU doesn't count the years it was known as BY Academy and says the record is 51-31-4. That the two schools separated by 100 miles can't even get together and agree on the series record is but one example of why the rivalry is special.
This is the week BYU fans won't wear red (if they do at all) and Utah fans won't wear blue (even denim), the message boards light up and the term "bitter rivalry" becomes an understatement.
You might love thy neighbor, but go ahead and admit it: During rivalry week it's harder to do so. Who cares what conference the programs are in when your friend, relative or co-worker who graduated from that other school won't let you forget the score?
"I don't do much talking, myself," said Utah offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, who has in-laws who live in the Provo area. "It's when you don't have to hear anything, that it's the nicest."
Mitchell Light, the editor of Athlon Magazine, expects that the rivalry will remain strong much like the in-state battles between Clemson-South Carolina and Florida-Florida State. They hail from different conferences, but due to proximity recruit many of the same players and have divided families when it comes to declaring their allegiance to a school.
"Great rivalries, in my opinion, are about more than jockeying for position in a conference race," he said. "They are defined by the tradition of the two programs and the disdain that the fans have for each other. As long as both programs remain strong, BYU-Utah will still be one of the better rivalries in the sport."
In that respect, it would be difficult to find rivalries more competitive than this one in recent seasons.
Five of the past six games have been decided by a touchdown or less, with two of them going to overtime.
Last year the Utes scored 17 points in the final quarter and blocked BYU's 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired to prevail 17-16.
It was a wild ending that made the game special, much like the John Beck to Jonny Harline winning play in 2006, or the overtime game won by BYU when Max Hall passed to Andrew George for the winning touchdown in 2009.
Afterward, Hall went on a rant, calling Utah and its fans "classless."
His comments stunned many on both sides and were used as added motivation by Utah's players last year.
That they got revenge in the end made it a special game for the Utes. On that day, it didn't matter that TCU was the conference leader. The Utes had beaten BYU, and that counted more than anything.
"This game, it doesn't matter if it doesn't have a say in the conference," Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn said. "It's the rivalry game and you want to win it no matter what. It's as big as ever, and you'll do whatever it takes to win."
Best nonconference rivalries
The Utah-BYU rivalry is moving into uncharted territory for the schools, which are meeting for the first time in 113 years as nonconference foes. However, plenty of other rivalries have thrived as nonconference contests. Here is a look at just a few of them.
Florida (SEC) vs. FSU (ACC) • The series is split 18-18-1 in the past 37 meetings. The rivalry was at its best in the 1990s when the teams were ranked in the Top 10. In 1996, FSU won the regular-season match, but Florida beat the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl 52-20 for the national title.
South Carolina (SEC) vs. Clemson (ACC) • Clemson holds a 65-39-4 lead in the game known as the Palmetto Bowl. Forty games have been decided by a TD or less.
Georgia (SEC) vs. Georgia Tech (ACC) • Georgia leads 61-39-5 in the series known as the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry. The two schools are separated by just 83 miles.
Iowa (Big Ten) vs. Iowa State (Big 12) • This rivalry was so intense at one point that the teams refused to play from 1934 to 1977. Football fans everywhere should be glad the two decided to resume the series, particularly after Saturday's thriller, won by Iowa State 44-41.
TCU (MWC) vs. SMU (Conference USA) • TCU leads 44-39-7 in the Battle for the Iron Skillet. And, yes, frog legs are known to be a popular pregame meal for SMU fans.
Louisville (Big East) vs. Kentucky (SEC) • Overshadowed by the basketball rivalry, the football version is getting stronger, with Kentucky leading 14-9. Louisville has the edge in recent years, 9-8.
Colorado State (MWC) and Colorado (Pac-12) • Known as the Rocky Mountain Showdown, this rivalry game is played in Denver. The game has lost some of its luster recently, with both teams struggling. However, the schools signed a contract to continue the rivalry to 2019.