Bleeding Red: ‘Holy War’ should have been this week for Utes and Cougars

No U and Y game should be a sin
I can’t wait until they play again
No I’m no quitter
Yes I’m still bitter
As I think about what might have been

COMMENTARY — One of the common steps in any addict recovery program is admitting that you have a problem. I’ll admit it — I still have a problem that the Utes and the Cougars did not play last year and will not play again this year. I know it is water under the bridge at this point, and I should move on, but I just can’t and it still irks me. As Utah prepares to face Fresno State today (8:30 p.m. MT on CBSSN), I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the Utes were still playing the Cougars this week instead of the Bulldogs.

Just imagine some of the story lines that could have been beaten to death by the media all week long, whipping the fans into a frenzy in anticipation of a big showdown on Saturday.

  • Both teams are 2-0 and nationally-ranked after opening week wins over national powerhouses Michigan and Nebraska, with BYU leapfrogging Utah in the most recent AP Poll, but Utah still maintaining the upper hand in the Coaches Poll.
  • The Cougars won both of their first two games with last minute Hail Mary passes — could it happen a third consecutive time against the Utes?
  • One of Utah’s emerging stars is true freshman Britain Covey, who played for Timpview in the shadow of Lavell Edwards Stadium, and whose uncle is former BYU quarterback Sean Covey.
  • Prized in-state recruit Harvey Langi initially played for the Utes, but after returning from an LDS mission transferred to and now plays for the Cougars.
  • Strength pitted against strength as Utah’s vaunted defense faces BYU’s offense.

Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill has gone to great lengths to characterize the trade-off as Michigan substituting for BYU on Utah’s schedule. The reality is that the Wolverines initially filled an otherwise empty spot on the Utes’ schedule, a schedule that already included the Cougars and could have accommodated Utah playing both schools. Instead, BYU was summarily dropped from Utah’s schedule, and Fresno State filled the void. That’s right, the Cougars were replaced by the Bulldogs, not the Wolverines.

1byuutahI’m not aware of any actual scientific survey that is statistically relevant that has been done about whether fans really want Utah and BYU to play every year, and I wish one would be conducted. Instead, both sides of the debate have been reduced to citing anecdotal evidence about whether fans really want this game to be played.

“The message I have received loud and clear from Utah season ticket holders is that they support our decision to take a two-year hiatus from the BYU rivalry,” claims Dr. Hill. However, for every anecdotal story Dr. Hill can dredge up about fans supporting his decision to not play this game, I can provide my own anecdotal stories of fans that are bitterly disappointed that Dr. Hill chose to impose a two-year hiatus on this rivalry.

The closest thing I could find to real data regarding the fans’ true feelings towards this game was USA Today’s College Football Fan Index released on Nov. 24, 2014, which purports to be “a cumulative data-based ranking of America’s most engaged fan bases in 2014,” with Utah-BYU checking in at No. 9 among the 10 best rivalries in college football of 2014 (again, a year the Utes and the Cougars did not even play each other). “BYU-Utah is one of the most intense rivalries in sports.

Notwithstanding the current hiatus, the Holy War is still getting plenty of national recognition as one of the top rivalries in college football.

  • A May 2015 article on ranked Utah-BYU as the 6th best college football rivalry. “The two schools are located fairly close to each other in the Salt Lake City area, and that only adds to the divided nature of the bitter rivalry that is known to split generations of families.”
  • A Sporting News article recognized Utah-BYU as a top ten college football rivalry. “Massively underrated rivalry tinged with religious overtones.”
  • A November 2014 Athlon Sports story rated The Holy War 14th among the greatest rivalries in college football history. “The Holy War might be the best name for any rivalry in the nation.”
  • A May 2015 Bleacher Report article placed Utah-BYU in college football’s top 25 all-time best rivalry games. “[O]ne of the more underrated rivalries outside the Power Five conferences.”

The good news is that this week, a relatively quiet announcement was made that Utah and BYU will play each other to open the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The teams had already been slated to resume The Holy War in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Of course, once upon a time the teams were also scheduled to play last year and this year, so there is still no real guarantee until the games are actually played.

Here’s hoping that the unique and spirited Holy War will continue to be played on an annual basis with no more interruptions.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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  • St. G September 19, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Utah / BYU is so Vietnam. Move along.

    • Dexter September 20, 2015 at 3:52 am

      Amen to that enough already..

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