By MICHAEL MILLER AND BRUCE JACOBS
Rivalries are great all by themselves, but when there’s more than state bragging rights on the line, competition gets even more intense.
The rivalry between BYU and the University of Utah spans decades and a variety of sports, but perhaps the most important game between the two schools is settled annually on the football field.
This Saturday, BYU and the U of U will meet for the 80th time to determine in-state supremacy.
Before LaVell Edwards took over as head coach in 1972, BYU owned a dismal 8-41-4 record against the Utes.
But during Edwards’ era, BYU has made up some ground. Since Edwards took over, BYU has treated Utah like the little brother, battering them around until the early ’90s
BYU color commentator Blaine Fowler, who played backup quarterback behind Steve Young and Robbie Bosco, said little competition existed between BYU and Utah in those years.
“When I was at BYU, we dominated the series even years before I got into the program,” Fowler said. “When I got (to BYU), Utah was not the biggest competitor at that time. (Utah’s) main goal for the year was to beat BYU. Our main goal was to (win) the WAC or be ranked in the top 20.”
Paul James, KSL’s radio announcer for BYU football, said a lopsided rivalry is no rivalry.
“To keep the rivalry alive, you’ve got to win one once in a while,” James said.
James said two of the most memorable BYU-Utah games that he ever broadcast were in 1988 and 1989. James said Utah’s 57-28 pounding of BYU at the hands of Ute quarterback Scott Mitchell renewed the great rivalry between the schools.
The following year, BYU trounced the Utes 70-31 to pay back the previous year’s blowout.
Fowler said, in recent years, the BYU-Utah matchup has resembled even more of a traditional rivalry.
“All the things that make a rivalry are there,” Fowler said. “The two teams are competitive. Their talent level is similar and both teams have a chance to win. There is no problem with emotion for this game this year.”
In the ’90s, BYU and Utah have split their last eight meetings. On average, the margin of victory in the last six games, has been fewer than 10 points.
Defensive lineman Ed Kehl said because the BYU-Utah game takes place at the end of the season, there’s usually a lot riding on it.
“It always boils down to the very last game,” Kehl said. “The last couple years we haven’t been able to win. Usually, when there’s something on the line we end up winning.”
In 1996, the Mountain Division championship was on the line for BYU and Utah when the game was played in Salt Lake City. BYU ran all over the Utes and dominated the time of possession and came away with a 37-17 win en route to the WAC championship game in Las Vegas.
This year, the division championship again hangs in the balance as the Cougars travel to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday. A victory again will send BYU to Las Vegas, while a loss will allow either San Diego State or Utah to advance.
Utah head coach Ron McBride said he enjoys the rivalry, especially when there’s a lot riding on the game.
“Who else would you rather play than your rival for something that means something?” he said.