SALT LAKE CITY — Seeing how BYU has won 26 of its last 30 football games against Utah State, you have to ask: After last year's Aggie win, is it a rivalry yet?
Sure, in the sense that kiwano is a fruit.
But if USU makes it two in a row, different story. Those back-to-back 34-31 Utah wins over BYU in the 1990s changed everything. It got personal and debatable and certainly more important. Eighteen years later, it's still as unpredictable as the stock market.
Which brings us back to Utah State-BYU, which will resume its "rivalry" Friday night in Provo. BYU had won 10 consecutive games with USU before last season, so it's a long way from debatable. Last time USU won two in a row was ... when? Right after they drove the golden spike?
Still, what would happen if USU won again this year? Would the school add a class to the curriculum ("Business Administration 4670, Introduction to Rivalries : A Study in Psychology, Physics and Momentum")?
The Aggies won 31-16 last year after building a 31-3 lead. But the last time they consecutively beat BYU was in 1971-74, when they actually won four straight. Then came the long dark night. OK, it was a 35-year night, but you get the idea.
What a second straight Aggie win would mean to BYU is that the Cougars really are in trouble. So far they've muddled along, edging Mississippi and Central Florida and losing to Texas and Utah. A defeat to USU would set them back drastically, but not just from a "tough loss" perspective. It would render games like San Jose State, Idaho and Hawaii losable, too. The idea of a bowl-eligible season would suddenly be in doubt.
For Utah State, a win would be a leap in self esteem. Last year was a pleasant surprise for the Aggies; this year would be an image-changer.
"Motivation? No, I don't think motivation," USU coach Gary Andersen said when asked whether last year's game had a bearing on this one. "We shouldn't really need motivation. The one thing that was one of the major goals when we walked in here as a staff ... was to make it very important ... to have instate rivalries, and we made it very clear that until you win a game, it's not a rivalry. It's a lopsided instate game."
Andersen continued: "I think we have accomplished that goal. I think this will definitely be a rivalry. We won the last one and we look forward to the opportunity to play against them and I think that it will have a little more to it because of that."
What an Aggie win would mean is that for the first time since Nixon, they could say they aren't cowed, intimidated or spooked by the Cougars.
USU's mix of hard luck and jitters is considerable. It lost to defending national champion Auburn by giving up two scores in the final two minutes. It fumbled a punt with 2:17 remaining and lost in overtime to Colorado State. Last year's Aggies lost by seven at Oklahoma. In 2009, Andersen's first year, they lost by eight to Texas A&M.
So they seem to be improving in a noticeable way. Equally important, neither Andersen nor his players seem willing to accept moral victories.41 comments on this story
"It is going to come," Andersen said. "It is getting closer every single week and I think that it is going to come on a consistent basis here real soon. It hasn't yet, but that is me just sitting here flapping my lips about wins. It doesn't mean anything, it doesn't give us Ws."
So while BYU isn't great this year, an Aggie win could mean a climate shift in Logan. For proof, just look at the Utes. After losing 19 times in 21 years to the Cougars, all it took was a couple of 34-31 wins.
Suddenly, it was a rivalry after all.