This is how college football is supposed to be.
Too many times over the past few seasons, conference realignment has torn apart tradition-rich rivalries.
That impact will soon hit the Beehive State.
On the eve of the final game before a two-year hiatus in the BYU-Utah rivalry, however, there is the chance for BYU's matchups with the Utes and Utah State in two of their next three games to steer the nation's — and BYU fans' — perception of this year's team.
With BYU sitting at 1-1 and coming off a big victory over then nationally ranked Texas, the timing is set up for the Cougars to rise — or fall — against their in-state rivals. How they perform over the next three weeks, with a matchup with Middle Tennessee sandwiched in between, will set a precedent for how successful the 2013 BYU season is viewed.
Had the Cougars not fallen on the road at Virginia to open the season, the impact of BYU's games against Utah and Utah State wouldn't have been as severe on the remainder of their season.
But now, if the Cougars want to make a national splash, the journey begins now with their top two rivals on the horizon.
This season, the Pac-12 is viewed as the second-best conference in college football. With Utah coming into the contest at 2-1 and looking much-improved over last season, BYU's clash with its top rival holds more weight. Sure, a Cougar-Ute matchup always holds importance, but if the Cougars want to make this a special season, they need a victory this weekend.
Never mind the fact that sophomore quarterbacks Taysom Hill (BYU) and Travis Wilson (Utah) will only get one shot at each other in this storied rivalry. For players like BYU's Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman, as well as many other Cougar seniors, their legacy will be impacted by this weekend's result.
The BYU careers of players like John Beck and Jonny Harline — the two key cogs in the 2006 game-winning play — are a perfect example of this.
With Utah State on the rise, there's no guarantee either the Cougars will emerge from Logan victorious. That wasn't always the case, but the Aggies have turned this into a close rivalry the past few years.
Utah State topped Utah in Cache Valley last year, and nearly did so again this season in Salt Lake City. That close loss for a Utah State team coming off its best year in school history would provide any team with enough fuel to prove a point in its next rivalry contest.
On top of that, the Aggies are led by Chuckie Keeton, who is, no doubt, the best quarterback in the state and one of the best in the country. Combine that with a defense that is returning plenty of talent from a top-15 2012 season, and a Cougar victory in Logan this year would carry a lot of weight in terms of perception.
Best-case scenario: BYU beats both in-state rivals, tops the Blue Raiders in the middle game and is sitting at 4-1 heading into its homecoming game against Georgia Tech. With other teams like Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame still on the schedule, a 3-0 record over the next three weeks would set up BYU with the opportunity to impress on a national scale.
Worst-case scenario: The Cougars fall to both rivals, Middle Tennessee shocks BYU like it did Georgia Tech last season, and the Cougars are fighting just to become bowl eligible.
Even if the Cougars were to split the contests against the Utes and Aggies, and beat the Blue Raiders to emerge with a 3-2 record one week into October, BYU likely would need to pull a pair of upsets without any losses to non-ranked foes to have any chance of finishing the 2013 season in the top 25.
But that is how college football should be: Games with rivals carrying vastly more importance than the rest of the season.
No matter the outcomes, the state of Utah wins because it is in store for some hyped-up rivalry games on the horizon. And BYU wins because it has the chance, beginning with its rivals, to make 2013 a special season.
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