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DICKSON: Ready or not, BYU-Utah rivalry (smack talk) is back

By Darnell Dickson - | Jul 10, 2024

Courtesy BYU Photo

The BYU defense makes a stop against the University of Utah in the rivalry football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2021. BYU - 26 Utah - 17 September 11, 2021 Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2021 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322

Say this about the renewed BYU-Utah football rivalry: It won’t be sneaking up on anybody.

Utah quarterback Cam Rising launched a “shots fired” moment at the Big 12 Media Days in Las Vegas this week: “I want to go down there and whoop their ___, pretty much.”

Pretty strong words from a guy who wasn’t deemed good enough to start against the Cougars in 2021 and hasn’t played a game in more than 18 months, but with the passion and emotion of the rivalry, no one is surprised by it.

Someone should let him know the game is in Salt Lake this year, I guess, but you get his point.

His words weren’t as juvenile as Ute quarterback Tyler Huntley’s comments after a win in the 2017 game, where he giggled and said “BYU is so poo-poo” (easy to say after the fact, isn’t it?) or BYU’s Lenny Gomes in 1997: “All those guys think that’s all there is to life. But when I’m making $50-60,000 a year, they’ll be pumping my gas.”

There are usually two approaches when players and coaches talk about the rivalry: Toeing the company line (“We respect then and are excited to play”) or bravado. As a media member, the latter gives us more to write about, so hats off to those who speak their mind.

The Cougars and Utes have only played once in the past four years, a 26-17 BYU victory in Provo that ended a nine-game losing streak in the series. Just a day before that September 11, 2021 game was another key moment in Cougar history: The announcement that BYU was headed to the Big 12.

Now the Utes have fled the defunct Pac-12 and — somewhat begrudgingly — are joining the Cougars in the same league again.

The rivalry is on again.

We know the games have been, with a few exceptions, particularly competitive. Utah won the 2011 meeting in Provo 54-10 but the other eight wins in the nine-game steak were by an average of 6.3 points, with all but one by single digits. Even with a 35-0 first quarter lead in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl the Utes had to hold on for a seven-point victory (35-28).

There’s no question that Utah had a huge advantage rolling into the Pac-12 back in 2011 while BYU struck out on the independent route. More resources, more exposure, more everything for the Utes tipped the scales. That’s what led to the nine-game winning streak. Now that the Cougars are in the Big 12 (and apparently more willing to spend money on coaches, players, etc), can that even things up?

Over the years, BYU has done more with less in terms of budget and resources than just about any program in the country. On an even playing field, who dominates?

Texas and Oklahoma took the best rivalry in the Big 12 with them to the SEC. Can BYU-Utah be the headlining rivalry in this league?

Big 12 Commissioner Brent Yormark seems to think so.

“There are great rivalries from top to bottom in this conference,’ He said, “but at the top is Utah and BYU.”

Amping up this rivalry with two teams in a power conference on a national level should make more college football fans aware of (cringe) the “Holy War” and all of the hype and hoopla that come with it.

Utah has been picked to win the Big 12 and BYU forecasted to finish a distant 13th (out of 16). So it makes sense for the Utes to swagger and boast.

Cougar coach Kalani Sitake said all the right things at Big 12 Media Days but you could tell he and his players are aching to prove the experts wrong, and that includes making it a two-game winning streak against Utah.

You know, so much of college football isn’t recognizable these days: The fluid nature of conferences, the TV contracts, the transfer portal, NIL.

For 60 minutes on November 9, the college football world will focus on BYU-Utah, Blue vs. Red. It’ll be pure, unhinged adrenaline for both sides.

Sitake put it best down in Vegas: “It just makes sense.”

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