The press releases arrived this week within a day of each other. The first was from BYU, announcing the Cougars are on track to pass last year's football season-ticket sales by more than 5,000.

Not to be outdone, Utah issued a statement the next morning, saying it has already reached an all-time season-ticket high.

The message in both cases was clear: Don't wait too long. You may end up in the cheap seats. Or worse, hearing the cheers from outside the stadium.

Remember the good old bad times when you could walk up to the ticket window at 12:55 and still get a great seat? You can still do that. Just not during football season.

It's good to be Utah and BYU.

"It's like that perfect storm," said Ute assistant athletic director Zack Lassiter.

The first kickoff is still nearly a month away, but already BYU and Utah are competing. These schools could turn sneezing into competition. There's a reason for that. First, they're geographically close. You know how families bicker in the car on vacation? That's what happened with the Utes and Cougars.

Too much time in close proximity.

Then there's the fact they're both supposed to be good. Most preseason publications have BYU winning the Mountain West Conference, as well as being the "mid-major" most likely to play in a Bowl Championship Series game. But one publication has both teams going undefeated until they meet in November, with the Utes winning.

To amp things up even more, this week Sports Illustrated college football expert Stewart Mandel named Utah among three "sleepers" that could finish in the Top 15.

"I know BYU is the trendy 'BCS buster' pick, and I will have the Cougars ranked in my preseason ballot, too," he wrote. "It's hard to pick against a team that has won 16 straight conference games and returns practically its

entire offense. There's a part of me, however, that wonders whether we're propping up the wrong Utah team. The Utes ended last season nearly as hot as their rivals and return 1,204-yard rusher Darrell Mack and four of his starting blockers. Utah has a chance to prove itself in Week 1, opening up the season with a nationally televised game at Michigan."

Utah also has a nonconference game at home against Oregon State, while BYU has games at Washington and at home against UCLA.

None of this is lost to the marketing departments of both schools. Utah ticket sales were at 27,700 at week's end, over 2,500 more than they sold last year and about 8,000 more than in Urban Meyer's Fiesta Bowl year.

Utah has set ticket records six consecutive years.

Meanwhile, BYU has sold about 38,500 season tickets, more than 3,300 beyond what it had sold at the same time last year. The school hasn't even started its marketing campaign, but is expecting to sell 55,000-57,000 season tickets before the first kick.

Why tickets are selling at a record pace in a time of $4 gas and a slow economy is simple: They win at home. BYU has 12 straight home victories over the past two years. Utah is 9-3, one of those losses being a last-moment defeat to — who else? — BYU.

Besides, what's the cost of gas compared to seeing Utah beat Wyoming 50-0 as it did last year, or BYU bookending 52-7 and 55-7 wins over UNLV and Wyoming in 2006?

"Five years ago, if you'd asked me if (ticket sales) would be where it is at this point, I'd have been surprised," said Clark Livsey, BYU's ticket manager. "But things change in a hurry."

Lassiter said studies show that in tough economic times, ticket sales often rise because discretionary income stays close to home.

With that sort of interest, it stands to reason that view seating in Provo and Salt Lake is an only-while-supplies-last arrangement. Some fans have been known to buy season tickets just to be assured of seats for the final game of the season: Utah vs. BYU.

So if you're planning on being up close and personal for the big game this year, the time to buy is now. The grand finale is Nov. 22 in Salt Lake. It will probably be for the conference championship.

If not, at least you'll have a lot of company with which to commiserate.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com