Mark A. Philbrick
SALT LAKE CITY — Well, here we are, Rivalry Week 2011, Utah vs. BYU for the 93rd time in their long and storied history. The funny thing is that it doesn't feel like rivalry weeks from years gone by. I'm sure Utah being a member of the Pac-12 and BYU going the route of independence has played a role in it.
BYU and Utah both playing huge games against national powerhouses a week ago in Austin and Los Angeles may have also added to the low-key days leading up to Saturday's matchup in Provo.
Somehow it just feels foreign to be getting revved up for Utah-BYU in short sleeves and before the leaves have turned.
One thing moving forward (if this game is going to be played moving forward) that could add to the excitement and hype of the game would be to move the contest up to the first game of the season. What's always added to the Utah-BYU game is the season-long buildup to the showdown.
Utah, as a member of the Pac-12, must now play all of its nonconference games during the first three weeks of the season. Only the original Pac-10 members with traditional rivalry games later in the season, such as USC and Notre Dame, will get relief from this new rule.
So, if we can't have an entire season to build toward the Utes and Cougars, why not an entire offseason? Fans will have the entire spring and summer to crank up the hype leading to the regular-season opener. It will certainly give more meaning to the season's first week than a I-AA cupcake.
There's one other rivalry-related issue that really has me perplexed as we close in on the first nonconference meeting between the two schools since 1898. There is a school of thought making the rounds that this rivalry game should come to an end. Some fans believe it's become too intense, off the field in particular. Others say since the two schools are no longer members of the same conference that they don't need each other anymore.
To those fans I say: "What's wrong with you?"
Rivalry games are supposed to be more intense. That's why they are RIVALRY GAMES! That's what makes them different from the other 11 games on the schedule each year.
You aren't supposed to join hands and sing "Kumbaya" with your rival.
There is greater tension and emotion in all the great rivalries — Ohio State and Michigan, Auburn and Alabama, Texas and Texas A&M, Army and Navy — but you never hear anyone from those fan bases even hint at discontinuing their rivalry games. Nor should we here.
The Utah and BYU game is one of the best and most unique football series in all of college sports. The history, proximity, family ties, coaches and players make this a wonderful annual event. The games themselves — especially in recent years — have brought national attention to the schools and the state, and with the new television deals and conference affiliations the exposure will only continue to grow.
Let's embrace what we have and who we are this Saturday, because there aren't many rivalries in college football that compare.
I love this week, whether it's September or November, and can't wait to bring the game to you on the radio Saturday night from LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
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