Brad Rock: BYU-Utah rivalry … remember that?

Published: Saturday, Nov. 5 2011 8:00 p.m. MDT

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, left, and Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham talk before this season's matchup in Provo.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — People say nothing lasts forever, so that must include football rivalries too. It takes years to build them but only months for them to fade.

Take Utah-BYU for instance.

On other years the tension surrounding the football game would be almost unbearable by the second week in November. The sports radio shows would be roiling with trash talk. But these days there are other agendas, other games. Most fans expected the rivalry to change along with the scheduling, now that the game is in September. But couldn't there at least be a mourning period?

This thing is fading like a summer tan.

Already the Utah-BYU game is looking like Colorado-CSU — interesting but not terribly important.

If you need proof the rivalry is on its way to being just another game, remember it isn't really for bowl berths and conference titles any more. For all the coachspeak about it being merely another opponent, everyone knew it wasn't. It was the biggest game, even when it wasn't for a championship.

But no longer is BYU spending the year designing schemes to thwart the Utes. This November it's just trying to keep focused against low-lying teams like Idaho, New Mexico State and Hawaii. But since the Cougars have already secured a spot in the Armed Forces Bowl, that 54-10 loss to Utah didn't mean diddly.

BYU's biggest game next year is just as likely to be Notre Dame, Boise State or Georgia Tech as Utah. A lot of BYU fans nowadays would trade a win over Utah for a win over TCU.

Meanwhile, as the Utes fight to win games in the Pac-12, how much satisfaction can they take in routing BYU? Right now they'd trade five of them for a win over USC, Arizona State or Washington.

Although Utah's victory over BYU this year could be the deciding factor on bowl-worthiness for the Utes, and even though Utah could theoretically keep BYU out of BCS contention in the future, it's clearly not so personal anymore. Just business.

If you want to know how unspectacular the series has become, consider this: When was the last time you discussed this year's Utah-BYU game with a friend? Sept. 18 is when — the day after the game. Then it was over. In past seasons, fans discussed the game year-round.

Back then you could compare scores, but no one this year is noting that BYU beat Oregon State by 10 but Utah beat the Beavers by 19. All the talk is about how the Utes need to gain respect in the Pac-12 and whether BYU will get in the Big 12. It's about BYU going to Fort Worth and Utah hoping to get to New Mexico, Las Vegas or San Francisco for the postseason.

Ships passing in the night.

Maybe this year's Ute win was an inadvertent reminder the rivalry needed to cool. Before this year, five out of six and 14 of the previous 18 games were decided by a touchdown or less. A 44-point loss to anyone hurts, but how much does it hurt BYU if it's going to the Armed Forces Bowl anyway?

Moreover, how much would a loss to BYU mean if Utah ever went to the Rose Bowl?

So the scenario is playing out the way the experts predicted. Utah-BYU could even drop off the list of best rivalries in college football. Excluding a national championship, they can both get where they want without beating the other.

It's true losing is always painful. But the best way to describe the rivalry now is by comparing a loss to an influenza attack. It's not the intensity of the attack that matters as much as how long it takes to get over.

Email: rock@desnews.com Twitter: therockmonster Facebook: Rockmonsterunplugged

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS