They started the 2008 high school football season going in opposite directions, with top-ranked Alta looking like a state-title contender and Bingham laying an egg against Skyline.

But don't think for a second that any luster has been lost off of tonight's Alta-Bingham showdown in Sandy. It is still the most anticipated game of the regular season, and one that will answer questions about both teams.

Such as:

• Are the Hawks really as good as they looked in their 44-6 win over Spanish Fork last week? They aren't the largest team in the state, so can they hold up against a bigger team like the Miners?

• As for Bingham, was last week's 24-17 loss to Skyline an aberration? Or is Bingham in for a long and underachieving season?

Earlier in the week, Miners coach Dave Peck didn't have the answers. Frustrated by his team's perceived nonchalance in preparing for Skyline — and its seemingly lack of hurt following the loss — Peck conditioned his players to exhaustion during the week.

"I think some of these kids think that because the last three or four years we've had good players who would come out and compete and play hard and hit you, that they could just come out and the uniforms would automatically do the same thing," Peck said. "Unfortunately, Skyline didn't buy into that and they outplayed us in all aspects of the game."

A similar lack of urgency will translate into a blowout loss to the Hawks tonight. Reigning 5A champion Alta clicked on all cylinders against Spanish Fork last week and looks completely capable of defending its title. The Hawks may also have the mental edge tonight, as they defeated the Miners in junior varsity last season, and broke a five-game varsity losing streak against Bingham in the 5A semifinals last November.

Alta is confident, but expecting to see a much different Bingham team than the one that lost to Skyline last week. For one, the Miners will have two senior captains back in their lineup after they were suspended for last week's game.

"They're going to come out mad, they're going to come out hard," said Hawks quarterback Ammon Olsen. "After a loss, they're going to be pretty (mad). They're going to come out really strong against us, and they hate us, too."

Surprisingly, although the two teams make up the hottest high school football rivalry in the state, relations between the two programs have stayed respectful. Alta coach Les Hamilton reminded his players at the end of practice on Wednesday that no personal-foul penalties have been called in the last six games between the two schools. He doesn't expect that to change tonight.

"When you go see Bingham and Alta play, you're going to see a great football game," Hamilton said. "You're going to see an exciting football game. You're going to see potent offenses, stingy defenses, great special teams. You get a little bit of everything. There's a lot of respect between the two teams."

No other high school football matchup in the state captures the interest of casual fans like Bingham-Alta. More than 10,000 fans attended the regular-season matchup between the two teams in South Jordan last season. That game was a classic, as were their last two meetings in the playoffs at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Another capacity crowd is expected tonight.

Another standing-room only crowd should be on hand at Alta tonight, expecting another memorable battle between the state's two superpowers in high school football.

"I think because of the proximity of the two schools, and the success of the two programs, it's become a can't-miss game," Peck said. "Sometimes there's a lot of build-up about games, and you go and it ends up not being what you hoped for. That really has not been the case the last three or four years when Alta and Bingham have played. It will be fun to watch."

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