Las Vegas Bowl vs. Utah Bronco’s last for BYU

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Sarah Strobel
Coach Bronco Mendenhall consults with Kyle Van Noy during the 2012 BYU-Utah game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

BYU football will face its University of Utah rivals in the Royal Purple Las Vegas bowl on Dec. 19 in hopes of achieving head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s 100th and last win with the Cougars.

Mendenhall announced on Friday, Dec. 4 that this is his final season with BYU. He has a 99-42 record in 11 seasons with BYU and led the Cougars to a bowl game each year. Mendenhall accepted a job as head coach for the University of Virginia. On top of the heat of the rivalry, BYU players will surely be playing with extra fire to win one last game for their highly respected coach.

“We are looking forward to this unique opportunity of playing against a rival like Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl,” Mendenhall said in a press release. “This will be the first time this rivalry game has taken place in a bowl setting so it has some historic significance as well as being a great matchup between two teams that have had outstanding seasons. This will be our 11th straight bowl game and I’m definitely looking forward to coaching this team one last time as we take the field in Las Vegas striving to achieve our 10th win of the season.”

Some are calling the historic Sin City edition of the Holy War one of the top bowl games outside the New Year’s Six. But even those games don’t match the history and storyline of this matchup.

“We joke around that we’re going to need a bigger stadium, that we’re going to need more seats, but it’s the truth this year,” bowl executive director John Saccenti said to the Las Vegas Review Journal. “The storyline is phenomenal. You have the Holy War in Sin City, and you have two bitter rivals that haven’t played each other in a few years and used to be in the same conference.”

Cougar fans are excited to renew the “Holy War” rivalry that has kept Utah divided since 1922. Many loyal Utes, on the other hand, are upset at being passed over for USC, UCLA and Washington State in the Holiday, Foster Farms and Hyundai Sun Bowls. Some fans feel their pairing with the Cougars is a disrespect to their program after finishing as co-champions of the Pac-12 South Division. Especially after having represented the conference in the the Las Vegas Bowl just last year.

Utah was No. 3 overall in AP top-25 rankings for Week 8 and in prime position to secure a spot in the College Football Playoffs. But losses to USC, Arizona and UCLA dropped the Utes out of the playoff picture, now at No. 22 in the CFP rankings released Sunday morning.

Fans of both teams have been vocal on social media in expressing both excitement and disappointment about the matchup. One Utah fan poll said they would rather not attend a bowl at all.

BYU and Utah both finished the regular season 9-3. The Utes have better headline wins against teams like top-ranked Michigan and Oregon, but the Cougars certainly haven’t lacked in excitement with last-minute Hail Mary wins against Nebraska and Boise State.

The longstanding rivalry has not been scheduled in the past two regular seasons. The two teams will meet again during the 2016 regular season on Sept. 10 at Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Whichever team wins the bowl will likely end the season ranked in the top-25, keeping the other team from the rankings. This game will surely add heat to what is already an intense rivalry. Utah is currently ranked No. 20 in the AP poll while BYU sits just outside the rankings.

“We are excited to be returning to Las Vegas to play in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl,” BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe said in a press release. “BYU–Utah is one of the great rivalries in college football. Playing each other for the first time in a bowl game should add a unique chapter to our storied history.”
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