Tom Smart, Deseret News
Opposing fans in the Utah-BYU rivalry game won't get the opportunity to sit next to each other in 2014 and 2015.

Seems sorta strange seeing the start of college football's bowl season, looking up and down the long list of teams that are involved, and not finding "Utah" among the names of this year's participants.

After all, there are 35 bowl games this year — meaning 70 schools were invited to play in the annual postseason party.

There you'll find Utah State and BYU, of course, but there are some other teams you might not readily recognize or be accustomed to seeing on that "illustrious" list — Ball State, Central Florida, Toledo, Kent State, Arkansas State, Vanderbilt, Duke (heck, I thought they only played basketball there), Northern Illinois and the two Louisiana-hyphens, -Lafayette and -Monroe.

But, nope, the Utes are nowhere to be found.

That's what a humbling 5-7 season will do to a proud program which had been bowling for nine consecutive seasons before this one, winning seven straight bowl games from 2003-09.

So, after sputtering through such a sub-par season this year, what'd the Utah athletic hierarchy do to appease their disappointed fans?

Why, schedule a couple of future games with Fresno State, of course!

Having already announced that their tradition-rich series with instate rival BYU would, unfortunately, be put on hold for the 2014 and '15 seasons — an announcement that was made much to the dismay of many, many fans from both schools — the Utes decided they'd rather face Fresno State in those same two seasons instead.

And let the public outcry begin.

"How can they not schedule BYU but schedule Fresno State instead?" they shrieked on sports-talk radio stations heard across the airwaves this weekend.

It's a great question.

Comparatively speaking, that'd be like a devoted Civil War historian getting all geeked up to go see that great film "Lincoln," only to find out he'd gone to the wrong theater, one where they were currently showing "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer" instead.

Or an NBA fan paying a lot of money to watch his hometown team go up against the San Antonio Spurs, only to learn that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had decided to leave Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home to rest.

Oh, wait, that's already happened a couple of times.

Anyhow, you get my point. This is not meant to disparage Fresno State's fine football program in any way. After all, the Bulldogs are one of those 70 schools who'll be going bowling over the next couple of weeks (Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24 vs. SMU).

And if there's anybody who should be more insulted by Utah's decision to discontinue the rivalry game with BYU than Cougar and Ute fans are, it's Fresno State, which is apparently perceived by the U. braintrust as a less challenging, more beatable opponent than BYU is.

In all seriousness, with the huge emotional drain and all the off-the-field, fan-generated baggage that the Utah-BYU rivalry brings nowadays, it's no wonder the Utes decided they'd rather take a breather from all that and face somebody else for a change.

But there's a huge throng of disappointed fans out there that won't forgive them for disrupting the rivalry, which has grown into one of the best in all of college football. And it's certainly been an annual highlight on the Beehive State sports scene.

For that matter, though, there's some red-clad folks out there who won't ever stop grumbling about how a highly touted Utah team somehow staggered to a 5-7 showing this season. The best way for the Utes to shut 'em up and win 'em over is to get the program back on track, go out and win eight or nine games next year and go to a bowl game again.

And then the Utes' team can start thinking about beating Fresno State in 2014-15 — even if most of us wish they were still worrying about how to beat BYU instead.