The Holy War Bowl: The Utes Worst Nightmare

Even when the Utes try to avoid playing BYU for a couple years, the powers that be won’t allow it. We’ll all be lucky enough to watch these two archrivals battle it out for the first time ever in a Bowl game December 19 in Las Vegas in what will be BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s last game at BYU as he seeks to reach 100 wins with the school before departing to Virginia. Rivals. Bowl Game. Milestones. Final showdown between two coaches. Talk about storyline!

The matchup was officially announced Sunday and most BYU fans seemed excited and most Utah fans seemed upset. Why? Let’s be real, the Utes feel they’re above BYU now and they want their 9-3 season to be valued higher than BYU’s 9-3 season. I see it all the time on Facebook, I receive it in text messages and I hear it in person. I can’t entirely blame their bias fandom though. They’ve won four straight in the rivalry and 9 of 12 since Urban Meyer came in and changed the Utah football program forever in a matter of two years back in 2002. They busted the BCS twice, winning both times and BYU has yet to reach a major Bowl game in the BCS/Playoff era. They’re in the Pac-12 and BYU is an independent struggling to lock down solid opponents willing to play them in November. They were ranked as high as no. 3 this year at 6-0 in Week 8, BYU never cracked the top 15. Unfortunately though for the Utes, reality is they are very much not above bitter in-state rival BYU. Not even close. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah has finished in the Top 25 once (no. 22 in 2014 with an 8-4 record), so has BYU (no. 25 in 2011 with a 10-3 record). Utah is currently ranked no. 22 and BYU no. 28, so the winner of the 2015 Vegas Bowl will finish in the Top 25 yet again, while the loser won’t. Strength of schedule is fully taken into account for all rankings, so final rankings and head-to-head wins are all that matter to prove who’s superior in this rivalry.

What a matchup it will be! Both teams are 9-3, both are without their best player (Taysom Hill for BYU and Devontae Booker for Utah), and both want this win BAD! Utah and its fans have far more to lose though. I mean, this is worst case scenario for them. They can’t hide behind the “we’re in the Pac-12” talk now. They’re currently 3-point favorites and their schedule is soooo hard, they couldn’t possibly lose the Vegas Bowl to a “lowly independent”, could they? And don’t gimme that “we don’t care cuz it’s a worse bowl than we wanted or expected” crap like you’re Alabama or something either. You haven’t been to a better bowl than the Vegas Bowl since joining the Pac-12 anyway. In fact, you haven’t been bowling much at all since joining the Pac. This game is a huge deal for both schools and for the entire state of Utah and we all know it.

The Holy War is far more heated than a lot of the country realizes. In fact, I’d say it’s as intense as Michigan/Ohio State and Auburn/Alabama, it’s just not nearly as nationally well known or followed. The animosity is definitely there though. Here’s some stats on the Holy War:

  • Overall Series: 57-34-4 in favor of Utah
  • Since 1972: 26-16 in favor of BYU. Why 1972? Because I’m a BYU fan and that’s when BYU hired LaVell Edwards. More importantly though, let’s be honest, who cared about football before the 70s? I mean, Rice-Eccles Stadium was called “Ute Stadium” before 1972.
    • Record by BYU Coaches since 1972:
      • 22-7 under LaVell Edwards
      • 1-3 under Gary Crowton (1-1 vs. McBride, 0-2 vs. Meyer)
      • 3-6 under Bronco Mendenhall (hired at BYU the same year Kyle Whittingham was hired at Utah. In fact, BYU offered Whittingham, a BYU alum and former Cougar linebacker, the job first. He declined BYU’s offer to take the higher-paying job at Utah where he’d been an assistant for years. Mendenhall was very much BYU’s second choice back in 2005)
  • Largest Margin of Victory: 50, BYU beat Utah 56-6 in 1980 with Jim McMahon as quarterback
  • Bowl Appearances:
    • BYU: 33 (13-18-1)
    • Utah: 19 (14-4)
  • BCS Bowl Appearances
    • Utah: 2 (2004 and 2008, 2-0)
    • BYU: 0
  • National Championships:
    • BYU: 1 (1984)
    • Utah: 0
  • Heisman Trophy Winners:
    • BYU: 1 (Ty Detmer, 1990)
    • Utah: 0 (though I feel it fair to note that Alex Smith was drafted no. 1 overall in 2005. BYU has never had a no. 1 overall NFL draft pick. Ziggy Ansah (2013) and Jim McMahon (1982) both went no. 5 overall from BYU in their respective drafts. Steve Young went no. 1 overall in the 1984 supplemental draft.)

So, what happens in Holy War XCVI (96 for those of you looking it up, I had to too)? While I’m clearly a BYU fan, I do have the ability to detach myself for a prediction and my prediction is that BYU will win. I think Utah is far less dangerous without Booker than BYU is without Hill. I also think the added motivation of this being Bronco’s final game as Head Coach and seeking win no. 100 will help BYU finally match Utah’s intensity, which they’ve consistently failed to do since Bronco took over in 2005. My biggest beef with Bronco as a Cougar fan is that he doesn’t seem to get the team adequately amped to beat Utah–and it shows on the field. But I’m expecting that to change in his final game, crushing Ute fans everywhere (and by ‘everywhere’, I of course mean in Salt Lake City, cuz I don’t know of any Utah fans anywhere else). Game on.

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