SALT LAKE CITY — Now that BYU and Utah have committed to meet annually in football from now until kingdom come, the only thing I can say is there go the Aggies.
Utah State is far from its days as a cow-chip program; it’s a rising one. Which is partly why it isn’t on the Utes’ agenda. Barring unforeseen changes, Utah vs. USU won’t happen for at least another half-dozen seasons. By scheduling BYU through 2024, the Utes in effect said the closest they’ll get to Cache Valley is buying its cheese.
Monday the Utes and Cougars simultaneously announced a two-year extension on their agreement. They did so via identical press releases, except that BYU’s started out with “BYU and Utah …” while Utah’s opened “Utah and BYU …”
What do you expect from schools that can’t even agree on their all-time series record?
Mark the date: Aug. 29, 2019. Sports radio stations can start talking about the next Cougar-Ute game right … about … now. The rivalry that refused to die is on until further notice. Though neither of the schools’ initial news release included quotes, I called former Utah athletic director Chris Hill, who retired last summer, to see if he foresaw such a development. He says he did. He got the basketball series with BYU back on track after a one-game hiatus.
“I know through experience it’s very, very important to play Utah and BYU in both football and basketball,” Hill said Monday. “That is what our plans would have been, and I’m happy to see what happened.”
It’s a poorly kept secret that Ute football coach Kyle Whittingham and basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak would prefer not playing BYU yearly. Utah already has nine potential losses on its annual grid schedule, so playing the Cougars in an emotionally taxing nonconference game is a gamble.
BYU’s schedule often includes enough cupcakes to guarantee a bowl game regardless.
But basketball is a different deal. With just 18 conference games — leaving a dozen slots open — there’s no strong reason the teams couldn’t play annually. Krystkowiak saw the light after politicians launched an audit of the Ute athletic program shortly after he canceled a game with the Cougars.
From a competition perspective, it’s hard to argue against a yearly Utah-BYU football meeting. The games are as addictive as bacon. Even when they’re not close, they are, like the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl and last fall’s regular-season game. Utah has won eight in a row, yet all but one has been tight.
When Hill retired and Mark Harlan came in, it wasn’t yet clear just how the rivalry would play out.
“I’ve just got to learn more about the rivalry, learn more of what were some of the nuance changes when they separated in league,” Harlan said last June. “Tom (Holmoe) will be great to get the BYU perspective and I want to learn from the Utah side. But I love rivalries. I love ’em.”
They’re awesome every single time you win.
USU doesn’t need Utah as much as BYU does. The Aggies can reach a New Year’s Six bowl game without ever glancing at the Utes. They just had one of the finest seasons in school history, going 11-2 and finishing the season among ranked teams (22) for just the fourth time.99 comments on this story
With Utah winning the Pac-12 South for the first time, and USU routing North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl, it would have made a nice regular-season matchup. It’s an easy angle but irresistible nonetheless, that Whittingham could be facing two former assistants, head-to-head, in USU’s Gary Andersen and BYU’s Kalani Sitake.
But playing two in-state games annually will seldom if ever happen.
For now, USU isn’t on Utah’s schedule at least through 2024. The Utes’ nonconference slate is filled until then. Utah played Northern Illinois and Weber State this year, Fresno State in 2014 and 2015. It could be playing USU if it wanted. But thanks to Monday’s announcement, don’t plan on that occurring for years.
As long as BYU is on the schedule every year, don’t plan on it at all.