Dick Harmon: Some BYU fans at crossroads after 3-loss season

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 13 2009 12:08 a.m. MST

So, what is the psyche of the BYU fan when the topic of chief rival Utah comes up in football discussions?

That's the question my editors asked me to explore.

I don't know if I can provide a definitive answer. But the question is interesting. After numerous phone calls, hundreds of e-mails from BYU and Utah fans alike, it is a volatile subject that's a pinprick away from bursting a rhetoric-filled balloon.

I'll give you an example in a few paragraphs.

The intelligent BYU fan admits, without reservation, Utah football isn't "Little Brother," like in the '70s and '80s since Ron McBride hired the Whittingham father and son. A pair of BCS wins in five years is a benchmark of success that is without equal among the envious non-BCS teams spread across the land.

Go, Utes? They are going.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the BYU apologists. They are Utah BCS deniers. This group believes the Ute success is a fraud, smoke and mirrors, a bushel full of luck. They believe the Utes should only have won seven or eight games in 2008 and SEC loser Alabama had no interest in the Sugar Bowl. They believe Max Hall took a bribe to throw five picks against Utah. Some in this group also criticize the Cougar coaching staff for holding firesides, conservative practices and shrinking the recruiting pool by setting football as priority No. 5.

Football blasphemy, they say.

The centrist BYU fan? He basically hurts. It's been a while since a season ended in two losses and it isn't fun. The fact that Utah went undefeated just makes losing tougher. "One thing about BYU," said one, "is they will break your heart in the end. Always."

Of the Utes, they grudgingly admit Utah's program had a superior season and struck a huge anti-BCS blow for the Cougars, the MWC and for all college football. "Thanks for the $350,000 check," they tell the Utes.

My view is to pay respect where it is due: Utah excelled and BYU fell short. The Utes dramatically and ironically stole BYU's "Quest for Perfection" and delivered the Cougar dream/edict.

Both teams are bedrock for future attacks at the BCS and MWC titles.

In an early January piece published in Cougar Sportsline, penned by H.B. Arnett, his commentary reads: "If you are truly objective, it is hard to argue with the fact that the Utes are at the top of the MWC football heap and currently the top dog in the BYU-Utah battle of football programs."

That quip brought an immediate response from one of his long-time subscribers, Robert Garrick of Clayton, Mo., who disagreed and wrote: "BYU has been better than Utah for three of the past four years, and there isn't a coach in the MWC who would take Utah's recruiting situation over BYU's. The University of Utah's home base is one of the smallest states in America. It's a state without a great football tradition. ... Utah doesn't have any special drawing power outside of its location, either."

Garrick continues, "BYU has the drawing power of the LDS Church (the fourth biggest church in America and a force worldwide), is academically superior to Utah, has better facilities, and has a lot more money. BYU has a national fan base that Utah can only dream of. It's not by accident that BYU, alone among teams in the MWC, has BCS-conference-quality athletic programs.

"Utah's athletic programs overall are not even in the same category as BYU's."

He challenges Arnett, a longtime commentator on BYU sports, thusly: "So while your statement that Utah has somehow become the "top dog" in the MWC is ridiculous (other than on a one-year basis), it is true that Utah keeps winning big football games while BYU doesn't. BYU hasn't won a really big national game since it beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, 13 years ago."

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