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Tom Smart, Deseret News
BYU's Taysom Hill is tackled by Utah's Jared Norris as the University of Utah and Brigham Young University play football Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Provo.

Utah and BYU aren’t in the same league anymore and don’t even meet for the next two seasons. That’s OK, because the trash talking between players has become pretty tame.

There’s no Lenny Gomes saying future Utes will be pumping his gas and no Max Hall saying he hates all things Utah. But that doesn’t keep the fans from carrying on. Check any comment board or call-in show. There the rivalry continues unabated: which team has the better situation (Utah); which has the greater tradition (BYU); which owns the rivalry (Utah, lately); which is more successful (BYU, lately).

While both teams say they want the rivalry to continue, the two-year break is being viewed with relief by some fans, which feel things have become too nasty. Yet no matter how far the teams go to separate themselves, something keeps pulling them back. BYU can go its merry independent way and Utah can join a Power 5 conference, but they still get compared — even by the national media.

The latest twist came in a Wall Street Journal article entitled “A Radical Realignment Plan for College Football.” It outlined a study by two Ohio State researchers, who evaluated the “football strength” of the nation’s best programs, regardless of geography or conference. In the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, Brian Turner and Jonathan Jensen factored attendance, winning percentage, revenue and computer rankings from 2003 to 2013. Then they proposed four major “clusters” of top college football programs.

Sure enough, Utah and BYU were in the same division.

These schools can’t get rid of one another. It’s like seeing a longtime acquaintance in the deli section of a grocery store. You make small talk, shake hands, and two minutes later you meet again in the frozen foods. Five minutes after that, you end up together in the checkout line.

The study suggested a top cluster would include Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas. In the second division were Clemson, Florida State, Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oregon, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, USC and Wisconsin. Third: Arizona State, Arkansas, California, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Miami, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington.

In the fourth division were, naturally, Utah and BYU, as inseparable as peanut butter and jelly. Also in the fourth cluster were Boise State, Louisville, Missouri, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

One question: Why is Cal in anyone’s division?

Equally interesting is that Vanderbilt, Arizona, Illinois, Iowa State, Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Boston College were among 23 power conference schools that were not included.

Doug Flutie must be choking on his Wheaties.

Does anyone remember when Pitt was a threat? Apparently not.

Last year’s Big 12 champion, Baylor, was nowhere on the list and national champion Florida State was slotted in the second cluster. OK, so it’s a 10-year study.

The big story from a local perspective is that Utah and BYU are still considered in the same class. Try as they might, they can’t separate themselves. BYU brags about its winning seasons and long bowl streak. Utah counters with its tougher schedule, its BCS wins, and its big-conference alignment.

Beginning this year, the schools are taking the longest break since World War II. Yet here they are, bumping into each other in the produce section of the grocery store.

Some say Utah’s Pac-12 affiliation will grind BYU into mid-major dust as things progress. Others say Utah will never go beyond doormat status in its conference and BYU will soon be in the Big 12.


I figure they’re bound to be in the same company — though not the same conference — forever.

In a classic movie, a woman named Karen Holmes and Sergeant Milton Warden have a conversation that sounds a lot like a Utah-BYU exchange.

Holmes: “Where are you going?”

Warden: “I’m leaving. Isn’t that what you want?”

Holmes: “I don’t know, Sergeant. I don’t know.”

The film? Same as the football rivalry: From Here to Eternity.

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