SALT LAKE CITY — Are you ready for it?
It's here, whether you like it or not. Heck, it's still officially summer and we're still wearing shorts and T-shirts and flip-flops, but the Cougars and Utes are ready to do battle Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
It certainly feels different. For the past 42 years, we've had to wait until the end of November for the annual grudge match between longtime rivals Utah and BYU. Usually, it's the same week as storied rivalry games such as USC-UCLA, Alabama-Auburn and Florida-Florida State.
This year, it's the same week as UTEP-New Mexico State.
It's all because of all the changes in the summer of 2010 when Utah jumped leagues and BYU leaped into independence that the Utah-BYU football game will never be the same.
Saturday night's game in Provo will be the earliest BYU-Utah game ever, that is unless you count the 1896 battle — which BYU doesn't — when the team in Provo was known as the B.Y. Academy and Utah pulled out a 12-4 win on April 6.
Otherwise, the earliest game between the two came in 1958 when the Cougars came to Salt Lake on Sept. 27 and took a rare victory — only their second in 33 games dating back to 1922.
Because this is the earliest regular-season game ever between the two, it will likely be the warmest game in Utah-BYU history, even if it is a night game. It's supposed to be 83 degrees on Saturday, which means even by the 7:15 p.m. kickoff, it should be in the 70s.
It also marks the first time in a long time that both teams will be coming into the big game following a loss. You have to go clear back to 1972 to find a BYU-Utah game where both teams had lost the week before, when the Utes were coming off a loss to Utah State and the Cougars to Arizona.
While the game won't mean as much as usual — both teams' BCS bowl dreams took a big hit by close losses Saturday, and no conference title or bowl destination will be on the line — it still matches two longtime rivals, who play perhaps the most competitive rivalry in all of college football.
Although Utah still has a large lead in the overall series (54-34-4), the game has been as competitive as any in the country for the past two decades.
Just look at these facts:
Since 1987, the series is tied 12-12.
Since 1997, every game but two has been decided by a touchdown or less. Only in Utah's two undefeated seasons, 2004 and 2008, were the games decided before the final minutes.
Four of last six games have been decided on the final play of the game, with each side winning two of those games.
Last year, it was Brandon Burton's block of a last-second field goal attempt by BYU. The year before it was Max Hall's pass to Andrew George in overtime. In 2006, it was John Beck's 12-seconds-in-the backfield pass to Jonny Harline. In 2005, it was Beck's incomplete pass in the end zone at the end of overtime after Brett Ratliff's TD pass to Travis LaTendresse.
That brings us to this historical 2011 season when Utah is moving up a notch to play with the big boys of the Pac-12 Conference, while the Cougars are stepping out on a ledge to see what football independence feels like.
Based on the first two weeks this season I have no idea who will win Saturday's game. However, based on recent history, I know this should be another fun game, with the outcome probably being decided in the minute or so.
Even if it is only September.
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