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Doug Robinson: Utah, BYU football: Rivalry always big, but this year it's even bigger

Published: Friday, Nov. 21 2008 12:31 a.m. MST

Fans of either Utah or BYU, above, will have reason to storm the field following Saturday's rivalry game at Rice-Eccles.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Memo to America's college football fans: It's rivalry week in college football, and if you're looking for the best rivalry game in the nation you won't find it in the usual places.

It's right here in Salt Lake City.

It's BYU vs. Utah, aka The Holy War, and all that's riding on the outcome is a BCS bowl, national rankings, conference championships and an unbeaten regular season.

Who would've thought.

A word or two about this rivalry for out-of-towners: The schools are only about 50 miles apart, and they pretty much ... how do we put this delicately? — hate each other's guts. It's like asking Rocky to live next door to Ivan Drago. Mother Nature built a thin ridge of mountains between them just to keep them apart.

Home-field advantage means almost nothing in this rivalry. The visiting team has won 11 of the last 18 games, including five in a row during one recent stretch.

Nearly 1,000 fans camped out near Rice-Eccles Stadium, in mid-November, to get tickets for the biggest game in the 90-year history of the rivalry. The only way to get a ticket is to shell out as much as $1,600 to scalpers.

Rivalry games are always intense, but of course the intensity gets dialed up a notch when more than pride and bragging rights are on the line. Not many rivalry games fit that description this week.

Michigan and Ohio State play Saturday. Arguably the greatest rivalry in college football, it promises to be an underwhelming affair. Michigan has lost eight of 11 games. The last time they lost eight games in a season, was, well, never. The Wolverines started playing football in 1879 — when Rutherford Hayes was president — and since then they had never lost eight games or five home contests in a season until this year.

Stanford and Cal — aka the Big Game — are renewing their rivalry today. Stanford is 5-6 and Cal 6-4. Wake us when it's over.

Washington meets Washington State in the annual (Rotten) Apple Cup showdown. Their combined win-loss record: 1-20. The only thing they're playing for is ... well, it was on the schedule. Paging Don James and Mike Price ... .

Colorado State (5-6) meets Wyoming (4-7). They call it the Border War; this year it's a minor skirmish.

Purdue at rival Indiana? Please. They have matching 3-8 records. Iowa-Minnesota? Both 7-4. North Carolina-North Carolina State? They're 7-3 and 4-6, respectively. Illinois is playing for a .500 season today when it meets Northwestern.

(By the way, the showdown between No. 2 Texas Tech and No. 5 Oklahoma is Saturday's best matchup, but it's not a traditional rivalry, so why did you even bring it up?)

This is not a good year for rivalries. Colorado-Nebraska, Florida State-Florida, Kansas-Kansas State, UCLA-USC, USC-Notre Dame ... either one or both teams in the rivalry are having sub-par seasons. None can touch what's on the line in tomorrow's BYU-Utah game.

The only question is why this didn't happen sooner. Only once have these teams met when both were nationally ranked — in 1994, BYU was No. 20, Utah No. 21. Throughout the series, if one team was hot the other was cold or mediocre. It seems long overdue that both teams reach this annual season finale with national rankings intact and major bowl representatives in the press box.

Everything came together this season ... well, except for BYU's loss at TCU ... to make this a legitimate big game, almost precisely as many observers anticipated before the season began. This season lived up to its billing, even if BYU does have one loss.

In this corner, it's Utah, 11-0 and ranked No. 8 in the nation; in this corner, it's BYU, 10-1 and ranked No. 16 in the nation. That 21-1 combined record is the best in the history of the series.

It's Max Hall vs. Paul Krueger and the Ute defense; it's Brian "Fourth Quarter" Johnson and Freddie Brown vs. David Nixon and Jan Jorgensen. It's Austin Collie vs. Brice McCain, again. It's BYU and Utah as we've never seen them.

The Big Game

No. 16 BYU at No. 8 Utah

Saturday, 4 p.m.

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 700 AM, 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

Live game blogs: deseretnews.com/blogs.


E-mail: drob@desnews.com

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