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BYU-Utah State football rivalry makes for LDS fan-friendly Friday night lights

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Priesthood session goers begin lining up on Temple Square during the second session of the 181st Annual General Conference Saturday, April 2, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Priesthood session goers begin lining up on Temple Square during the second session of the 181st Annual General Conference Saturday, April 2, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — As Latter-day Saint brethren of all ages waited to enter the Conference Center last October, one topic was trending in several lines.

“Did you see BYU come back to beat Utah State last night?”

“Dude, I can’t believe the Aggies blew that game.”

“Do you think BYU will make Riley Nelson cut his Prince Charming hair?”

Turns out Nelson, the quarterback who came off the bench in the fourth quarter to resurrect the Cougars’ offense for a 27-24 victory, attended Saturday evening’s priesthood session and was seen slashing and dashing through the masses afterward.

“Hey, Brother Nelson, nice game last night.”

BYU's Marcus Mathews celebrates catching the game-winning touchdown on a deflection in the back of the end zone as BYU defeats Utah State, 27-24 Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, at Lavell Edwards Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's Marcus Mathews celebrates catching the game-winning touchdown on a deflection in the back of the end zone as BYU defeats Utah State, 27-24 Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, at Lavell Edwards Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

In recent decades, BYU and Utah State have created a tradition of scheduling their in-state rivalry game on the Friday preceding October's semiannual general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which caters generally to both fan bases and eliminates conflict between two high-interest events.

“Over the years, the Friday before general conference has frequently been a compatible day for both schools,” said Tom Holmoe, BYU’s athletic director since 2005. “It’s a week where many out-of-state fans from both schools are in town for conference and can see their team play.”

Scott Barnes, Utah State’s athletic director since 2008, agrees.

“I think its something they (the fans) appreciate,” Barnes said. “It’s an accommodation as well as fitting in a window that’s perfect for national television.”

BYU QB Riley Nelson is driven out of bounds at the one yard line by USU's Chris Harris on Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, at Lavell Edwards Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) BYU QB Riley Nelson is driven out of bounds at the one yard line by USU's Chris Harris on Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, at Lavell Edwards Stadium. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

This year's game is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 5, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo with kickoff at 8:15 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Beginning Oct. 2, 1981, when the Cougars defeated the Aggies 32-26, the two schools have faced each other 16 times on the Friday night before the first weekend of October, to avoid conflict with LDS general conference.

BYU has twice played on general conference Saturday after 8 p.m. (2003 at San Diego State, 2004 at Colorado State), once on a Friday (2005 at San Diego State), and once on a Thursday (2006 at TCU). In 2007, the Cougars had a bye.

It is interesting to note that early in its history, BYU played the University of Utah over conference weekend five times (1937, 1940, 1950, 1951 and 1956). The Utes won four of the five games, and the fifth game ended in a tie (1950, 28-28).

A view of the priesthood session and LDS General conference on Oct. 4, 2010. (Deseret News Archive) A view of the priesthood session and LDS General conference on Oct. 4, 2010. (Deseret News Archive)

In 21 general conference weekend matchups between BYU and USU since 1922, Utah State has won four and BYU owns 17 victories. Aside from the Aggies' 31-16 win in 2010, BYU has dominated the series by winning 15 of the last 16 conference weekend games between the teams, which has provided some great ice-breakers and time-killing conversations for brethren in the priesthood session stand-by line.

In recent years, Holmoe has said he hopes the two schools can continue to schedule a game leading into conference weekend, despite the ever-shifting landscape of college football.

“Having played in the BYU-Utah State rivalry,” Holmoe said, “I appreciate the uniqueness and historical significance of the series.”

Barnes has concerns about the effects of conference realignment, which is breaking up more regional and in-state rivalries, but he would love to see the game with BYU continue.

Derrvin Speight of USU runs for a big gain against BYU in Logan, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Derrvin Speight of USU runs for a big gain against BYU in Logan, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

“I hope to play this game in perpetuity,” said the Aggies’ athletic director. “Now, if there was a need to move it off of Friday, as long as we could play home-and-home moving forward, I would be flexible in doing that. I think it’s really important to our fan base, and certainly to us, to hold onto this rivalry. Certainly we can make room for it, and we would hope BYU can as well.”

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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