It's a sunny, sweltering afternoon in early September 2015, and LaVell Edwards Stadium is sold out for the season-opener. On this day, BYU faces a familiar non-conference opponent from the Pac-10.
It's not Washington or UCLA or Arizona or Oregon State.
It's the University of Utah.
Instead of squaring off in the traditional regular-season finale in November, the longtime in-state archrivals are meeting in the first game of the year. Instead of winter parkas and gloves, fans wear short-sleeved shirts and suntan lotion. No conference championships or bowl bids hang in the balance. There's no seasonlong hype leading up to the rivalry game, though fans have had the entire off-season to look forward to it. The players are just grateful two-a-days are over, while the fans are still trying to learn the names of their teams' starters.
Is this where the BYU-Utah rivalry, one of the most heated and competitive in the nation, is headed?
With the Utes moving to the Pac-10 in 2011, and the Cougars remaining in the Mountain West Conference for the foreseeable future, there's no doubt their storied rivalry, which dates back to the 1890s or 1922 — depending on which school you ask — will change forever.
But how will the rivalry change? Will it diminish? Will it flourish? Or will it vanish?
This year's meeting, on Nov. 27 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, will mark the end of an era, as the Utes compete in the MWC for the last time. BYU and Utah have been members of the same conference since 1909, but that association ends in 2011. A BYU-Utah showdown during the 2011 season appears to be in jeopardy due to previous non-conference scheduling commitments. The Utes and Cougars have met every year since 1922 with the exception of a three-year period (1943-45) because of World War II.
Another possible interruption in the rivalry is a frightening concept for many fans who consider the annual BYU-Utah game the zenith of the football season.
Gregg Robison lives in Ohio but is still a season-ticket holder for Utah games.
"I kept my season tickets solely for the BYU-Utah rivalry," Robison said. "I fly back (from Ohio) every time they play at the U., and have come back once to go see it at the Y. It would hurt both programs if this game ended. It is the biggest weekend for sports in Utah."
Among fans, opinions on the future of the rivalry vary widely.
There are some who say it will be weakened by Utah's upcoming change of conference address.
"I'm a huge BYU fan and have been for many years," said one Cougar supporter who did not want to be identified. "Beating Utah in football and basketball is always a great experience.
"But now the rivalry will never be the same for me and will be much less intense because we will no longer be conference rivals, so there will be less meaning to the games between us. Like coaches always say, it's good to win the out-of-conference games, but your conference games are always more important.
"It won't matter to me if future games against them are played in either September or November because it will just be another non-conference game," the Cougar fan continued. "In fact, it would be best if we played them in September from now on, if we play them at all, so the team can focus on the more important conference games later in the season. Utah will probably feel the same way."
Both BYU and Utah will likely develop new or stronger rivalries within their own conferences. The rivalry between the Cougars and TCU could heat up even more while newly added Mountain West member Boise State appears destined to be a BYU rival.
The Utes could renew their rivalry with Arizona and Arizona State, which formerly faced Utah on a yearly basis in the old Western Athletic Conference, until the Wildcats and Sun Devils bolted for the Pac-10 in 1978. Or maybe fellow Pac-10 newcomer Colorado could become a rival.
"The Pac-10 and its conglomerate of BCS teams are not likely to look favorably upon the continuation of a Utah-BYU rivalry game each year," said Jason Ford, an Oregon fan who lives in Eugene, Ore., but grew up in Utah. "From a BCS perspective, BYU still has nothing to lose and Utah has everything to lose now when playing a non-conference rivalry game. It is more reasonable to believe, now that the Utes are added to the Pac-10, they will hope to garner a new rivalry within the conference."
Around the country, there are examples of in-state rivals who meet every year despite being in different conferences — Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Colorado-Colorado State, and South Carolina-Clemson.
"The BYU-Utah (rivalry) will live as long as the games are competitive," said Barry D. Broome, who lives in Georgia and has witnessed the rivalry between Georgia and Georgia Tech. "(The rivalry can) remain fiercely competitive."
Some insist the Utes' jump to the Pac-10 will only intensify the rivalry. Utah's Pac-10 membership could heighten the rivalry's national stature and exposure. The game itself would be a battle of the Pac-10 vs. the Mountain West — the team (Utah) from the automatic qualifying BCS conference vs. the team (BYU) from the non-AQ conference.
"Each year would be an opportunity to prove who was the better team and to condemn or justify the choices that were made," said Brian Stephenson of Beaver. "Ouch, makes me hurt just to think about it."
Meanwhile, is there a chance the BYU-Utah rivalry suffers an ignominious death due to scheduling conflicts or contract disagreements?
Both Utah athletic director Chris Hill and BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe have indicated a desire to keep the rivalry going.
"It is my intention to have the rivalry continue with a tremendous passion," Hill said while acknowledging that there may be some complications because of scheduling.
A week ago, Holmoe told reporters, "(Utah) is a great partner of ours. We had an incredible rivalry, and it was fun ... That's sad that it will change. We're fighting to try to keep it and make it work, but it's hard. The logistics have all of a sudden changed dramatically. So, we're going to fight to see what we can do."
Added Holmoe: "What we're going to do is do what's best for BYU."
Some say BYU and Utah competing in different conferences will be healthy for the rivalry and the state as a whole. They cite incidents over the years — such as former BYU quarterback Max Hall's infamous "I-Hate-Utah" diatribe last November — that have infused a nasty undertone. They wouldn't mind seeing the rivalry take a hiatus.
"In football, the rivalry is much too bitter and full of hatred," said Joel Reeder of Farmington. "I hope ... the football game is moved to earlier in the season or only played every other year. I believe by being in different conferences the rivalry would be toned down and hopefully get back to being civil and more respectable."
"Cleaving the rivalry right now would be good for fans of both schools," said Mark Stoddard of Provo. "A chance to cool it and get some perspective. It's an incestuous knife fight that's gone beyond a fun rivalry to bitterness of religion aspersions from both schools. Perhaps sending them on their way to become preoccupied elsewhere would leave the rivalry to one game each season rather than a weekly rant."
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