SALT LAKE CITY — Bowl people and prognosticators are a predictable lot. They usually go after the obvious, and always follow the money trail. So it’s unsurprising with Utah and Utah State bowl-eligible that someone would pair them in a hypothetical.
The Oct. 16 edition of The Sporting News had the Utah teams meeting in the Las Vegas Bowl. In other words, a bowl game that interests no one outside Northern Utah.
The ratings would be excellent in Tremonton, though.
For me, an all-Utah Las Vegas Bowl pairing would be like a trip up the Las Vegas Strip to see the Neon Museum. The old casino signs were wonderful when still in service. Maybe a dozen years ago I saw a few of them haphazardly stored in a vacant lot. Early this year, I paid $20 to get the updated version that included a tour.
Enough already. I’d seen it before.
A couple weeks after TSN’s prediction, such a pairing seems unlikely anyway. Utah State would have to win the Mountain West and Utah would have to badly slip. Currently the Utes are getting all sorts of love. CBSSports.com prognosticator Jerry Palm is calling for them to play in the Rose Bowl. Several important gridiron clairvoyants have them slotted in the Alamo Bowl as the Pac-12 runner-up.
This is a year I wouldn’t have minded seeing Utah and Utah State play in the regular season, even though Utah has won 14 of the last 15 meetings. But in a bowl game?
Get out the smelling salts.
“We both seem to be hitting on all cylinders and it is good for the state to have two teams ranked,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said.
True, but not necessarily meeting in a bowl game.
A good argument for bowls is to assess how teams from different regions and conferences pair up. I appreciated seeing how Utah State matched up against Ohio, Cincinnati, Akron and Northern Illinois. I was intrigued by Utah vs. Georgia Tech and West Virginia. Even the 2016 Foster Farms Bowl, featuring Utah against Indiana, told me something about the respective conferences.
And I was shocked and educated by Utah vs. Alabama.
Playing a Pac-12 team, instead of a Mid-American team, can never be a bad thing for USU. But meeting Utah would be strictly home cooking. A couple of national forecasters have proposed Utah State vs. USC in the Las Vegas Bowl. That’s a winner for USU fans. Utah State vs. Colorado in the Cheez-It Bowl? Excellent. But Utah vs. Utah State would be only moderately good for Utah State — the teams have already played 112 times — and moderately bad for Utah, as would any other Vegas draw.
Coaches Matt Wells and Kyle Whittingham would offer little pushback on such a game, but it wasn’t hard to read Whittingham’s feelings about playing BYU in 2015.
When I watch bowl games, I want exotic matchups, not somebody from up the street.
This isn’t my first commentary on locals meeting in the postseason. The 2014 and 2015 Las Vegas bowls didn’t thrill me. In the former, Utah played ex-MWC opponent Colorado State. It seemed quaint, like in 1903, when Utah played whoever lived nearby, like Fort Douglas, the 12th Infantry and Colorado Agricultural College (later CSU).
In 2015 it was Utah vs. BYU. Combined with the next year’s regular-season meeting, it was too much for a nine-month stretch. I can’t imagine many people outside the Rocky Mountains caring who would win between Utah and USU — nor a lot of people living inside the Rocky Mountains, either.
Ratings for the 2016 LVB game between San Diego State and Houston, according to Sports Media Watch, were 9 percent higher than Utah-BYU the previous year.
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Right now it appears a USU-Utah match is unlikely. The Aggies easily could lose to Boise State or mess up in the conference championship game, thus nixing the deal. Utah would have to slip below the Rose, Alamo, Holiday, San Francisco and Sun bowls to be available. The Utes are currently being linked to Ohio State (Rose), Texas (Alamo) and West Virginia (Alamo).
I don’t know how attendance would be for a USU-Utah game, but it would probably be good. I just wouldn’t want to play a bowl opponent I know like a brother and can practically reach by light rail.