Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae sacks Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau during game at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Saturday's meeting between the two teams is meaningful, but the annual game has yet to become a rivalry.

BOULDER, Colo. — Plenty of wonderful pairings happen naturally. Mac and cheese, chocolate and peanut butter, etc. Other flavors are forced.

When Utah and Colorado joined the Pac-12, the league office declared them a natural fit. The hope was they would eventually mimic the conference’s longstanding in-state rivalries. What could be more organic than the two newest members, in the same time zone, becoming huge adversaries? But eight years into the experiment, Utah vs. Colorado is not much more a rivalry than, say, Utah-Montana. They all have mountains, live in the West and … um …

This isn’t something people can draw up in a planning meeting.

Check back in the year 2045 and we can talk.

Saturday at Folsom Field, the Utes and Buffaloes meet in a game that has title ramifications for the Utes. Win and their chance at a conference championship remains. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Utes a 77.5 percent possibility of beating the Buffaloes. If they do, they can continue cheering for Arizona State to stumble.

This would be an opportune time to start up the Colorado-Utah rivalry hype, but there is none beyond a few media outlets trying to make it so. The comparisons are no more relevant than Salt Lake and Denver.

They’re not rivals, they’re acquaintances.

Kyle Whittingham wisely isn’t buying in. Every year prior to the CU game he gets peppered with rivalry questions and each year he says there’s no such thing.

“I would say just personally it’s too early still,” Whittingham said this week. “I’ve said this several times over the last seven years: you can’t manufacture a rivalry. It’s got to happen.”

Actually, playing Colorado is nothing new. The teams have met 64 times, starting in 1903. That’s only seven years after Utah-BYU began. Utah vs. CU is the fifth-longest series in Ute annals. The teams played every year for 40 years, sometimes twice, beginning in 1919 and ending in 1958. For years they were together in the Mountain States Conference. Utah defeated the Buffs nine straight times, from 1925-33.

Then came the big breakup, when Colorado joined the Big Eight and Utah joined the WAC, and a 49-year separation ensued. They didn’t get reacquainted until they were both in the Pac-12 in 2011.

The reaction was the same as when anyone meets after 49 years: Boy, have you changed!

It’s not like the teams haven’t tried to make this work. They’ve orchestrated games in the last seven years that would quicken anyone’s pulse. Last season’s contest was the only one that has been decided by more than a touchdown.

Saturday marks one of several times the teams have met with title possibilities on the line for one or the other.

“It’s been close pretty much every single year,” Whittingham said.

That hasn’t made it a rivalry. “I still don’t have that sense,” he said.

Earlier this week, Whittingham mildly played along with the rivalry theme, saying, “It is starting to feel that way a little bit.”

What he meant was that it feels like Taco Bell and Wendy’s.

They’re in competition, but not directly.

“I don’t think it’s a full-fledged rivalry yet,” Whittingham said.

There are reasons for that. One is that for decades Colorado didn’t consider Utah its peer, much less its rival. Colorado State wasn’t a peer, either, but it was an in-state opponent. Nebraska? That was a rival.

Utah was an echo across the mountains.

59 comments on this story

The internet tells me Saturday’s game is called the “Rumble in the Rockies.” That’s news to me. I’d never heard of it until this week.

Sometimes rivalries never happen, regardless of effort. It would take a long time for Utah-Colorado to evolve. It would require Beck-to-Harline, Ratliff-to-the-rescue, storming the field, tipping the goalposts, Smith or Staley to the end zone, and magic happens.

Utah’s rivalry game is next week against BYU. This week’s match has nothing to do with rivalries. But everything to do with ramifications.