SALT LAKE CITY — They’ve been talking about it in Provo for a week, and now everyone can finally start talking about the annual BYU-Utah grudge match.
Here are a few questions that need answering:
The logical answer is that it will be an advantage for the Cougars. However, the last two times either the Utes or Cougars went into the game following a bye week — in 1996 and 2000 — the team coming off the bye week lost. In 1996 the Utes had the week off before the game in Salt Lake City and were blasted by the Cougars 37-17, the only time the Cougars have won by more than a touchdown in the past 20 years. Then in 2000, in LaVell Edwards’ swan song game, the Cougars pulled out a 34-27 victory.
The last time BYU had an off week before the Utah game was clear back in 1953 before the memorable Thanksgiving Day game in Salt Lake City. That contest was won by the Utes 33-32.
Some say Utah cares about the rivalry more. That might be true. I don’t think the Cougars have a countdown to the rivalry game in their weight room as the Utes had for years in their old football complex.
But I also don’t believe the Cougars care any less about the rivalry than the Utes. Many of the Utah-BYU games in recent years have meant something big — conference championships, bowl games, etc. — and I’m sure the Cougars wanted to win as much as Utah.
So the answer to the question is: “I don’t know.’’
At first we heard it was because the Utes were playing Michigan in 2014 and 2015 and that they didn’t want another tough nonconference game. But then they went and scheduled Fresno State with a home-and-home series. The Bulldogs aren’t that far behind the Cougars. In fact, looking at recent history, it’s been a lot harder for the Utes to win in Fresno than in Provo. Since 1989, the Utes are 1-3 in Fresno and 7-5 in Provo.
I think the main reason for the two-year hiatus was simply so the Utes could set a precedent and say they could do it — go a couple of years without playing their longtime rival. Now that they’ve done it, it won’t be such a big deal if sometime in the future, they can’t find a spot on their schedule for the Cougars. But I also think there aren’t going to be many years when the two schools don’t play.
The ironic thing is that the Cougars have also signed a home-and-home series with Fresno State and will play the Bulldogs in Provo in 2015, the same year the Utes are playing the Bulldogs in Fresno. It makes you wonder why the Utes couldn’t go to Provo instead of Fresno that year.
It’s a tossup. Wilson has more experience with 10 career starts to Hill’s four. Wilson is the better passer, while Hill is the better runner. However, Wilson is a deceptively effective runner, while Hill is better than his 33.3 percent passing percentage this year.
It’s going to be a long time until the next time the Cougars and Utes meet again — three years, which is a long stretch for the winner to enjoy bragging rights. The fact that the Utes have won the past three rivalry games makes it a bigger deal for the Cougars to win. If they don't win this one, their drought against the Utes will extend to seven years by the time they meet again in September 2016. As for this season, the Utes need the win more if they want to get back to a bowl game.
Let’s see, since 1998 we’ve had two games end on doinked field goals off the uprights, two overtime games, a blocked field goal on the last play of the game, a 12-second touchdown play on the final play of the game, a 3-0 snow game and a couple of desperation fourth-and-long plays that led to winning touchdowns. Use your imagination. How about a triple-reverse 80-yard pass on fourth-and-25 for a team to pull within one and then a botched two-point conversion? Sounds crazy, but not much more than the finishes we’ve enjoyed in recent years.
We sportswriters will be in even more trouble with our deadlines than last week. And yes, BYU will keep playing until the final whistle.
It makes sense that BYU will win because of the motivation factor of a possible seven-year drought mentioned above and the fact that the Cougars are overdue. Also, the game should mean more to BYU, which has no conference championship to play for, while Utah has a couple of highly ranked conference opponents after BYU to worry about. But I’m going back to expound on my answer to question No. 2 and say this: "I don’t have the slightest idea."