SALT LAKE CITY — One of the nation’s most frequently played college football rivalries is headed for a bit of a rest. After a 2015 game at Rice-Eccles Stadium — the 112th all-time meeting between Utah and Utah State — the “Battle of the Brothers” will be taking a break.
The hiatus, at a minimum, could extend for at least three years — possibly more.
“That is a possibility,” said Utah athletics director Dr. Chris Hill.
It would amount to the longest break in the series since the teams didn't play from 1892-1900.
On Thursday, the Utes confirmed a home-and-home series with Northern Illinois. They’ll face the Huskies in DeKalb, Illinois, in 2018 and in Salt Lake City in 2019.
The first meeting fills Utah’s non-conference schedule that year. It also locks up the Utes’ annual three-game slate outside Pac-12 play through 2018. They’re set to face Southern Utah, BYU and San Jose State in 2016; North Dakota, BYU and San Jose State in 2017; and Weber State, Northern Illinois and BYU in 2018.
The 2019 schedule has just one vacancy remaining, with Idaho State and Northern Illinois now on the docket.
Since joining the Pac-12, Hill said Utah’s non-conference football schedule has become more complicated than people might think.
“We’re the only team in the country that has nine league games and two in-state rivals. Nobody has that in the entire country,” Hill explained. “So we’re in a unique situation trying to balance playing our in-state folks and having a schedule that is reasonable.”
Hill said it’s a matter of figuring out a non-conference schedule that doesn’t become so intense and difficult that the team isn’t prepared for a successful conference season.
The challenge is finding a balance to build momentum for league play — Hill said success in conference play is what it’s all about — and doing the right thing for Utah’s rivalries and fans, as well as other variables.
You can’t satisfy them all, all the time.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place of how much do we schedule everybody,” Hill said. “Our first obligation is to do what’s in our best interest for our teams to have a successful year. Second, is to do the best we can to keep rivalries going — which we’re trying to do.”
Hill noted that BYU is back on the schedule regularly following a two-year break in 2016. The Utah-Utah State basketball rivalry will also resume then after a couple of years off. Hill said that he and USU athletic director Scott Barnes are still trying to figure out how to handle football.
“I can’t see us going on without playing Utah State on somewhat of a schedule,” Hill said. “At the same time, we haven’t been able to figure it out and also incorporating BYU. So it’s been difficult.”
Although Hill can see a time when the Utes play both the Cougars and Aggies in the same year as they did last season, he noted that they’re such emotional games. He added that too many emotional games, plus league play, takes a toll on a team.
“Our schedule is very, very difficult,” Hill said. “If you look around our league people are being very careful about over-scheduling.”
Things were much easier when Utah was in the Mountain West and BYU was a conference foe, counting as one of the Utes’ eight league games. USU was a staple on the four-game non-conference schedule back then. The Utes and Aggies, in fact, played each year from 1944-2009 without a break.
Now, Hill explained, Utah needs to incorporate flexibility in its non-conference slate to facilitate opportunities that arise like home-and-home games with the likes of Michigan.
Even so, rivalries are still important.
“It makes sense for us to play both BYU and Utah State — enough to have them remain as solid in-state rivals,” Hill said. “Utah State is in that category.”
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Utah’s future non-conference football schedules
Aug. 28 — IDAHO STATE
Sept. 6 — FRESNO STATE
Sept. 20 — at Michigan
Sept. 3 — MICHIGAN
Sept. 12 — UTAH STATE
Sept. 19 — at Fresno State
Sept. 1 — SOUTHERN UTAH
Sept. 10 — BYU
Sept. 17 — at San Jose State
Aug. 31 — NORTH DAKOTA
Sept. 9 — at BYU
Sept. 16 — SAN JOSE STATE
Aug. 30 — WEBER STATE
Sept. 18 — at Northern Illinois
Nov. 24 — BYU
Aug. 29 — IDAHO STATE
Sept. 7 — NORTHERN ILLINOIS