‘There has been an awakening’: Storylines of BYU-Utah Vegas Bowl

Sarah Hill
Taysom Hill throws a pass on the run in the  2013 Holy War. The Utes beat the Cougars 20-13. (Sarah Hill)

There has been an awakening…have you felt it?

Not in the Force; in the BYU-Utah football rivalry. The 2015 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl this weekend will feature an inadvertent renewal of the Holy War: one of college football’s fiercest and most entertaining rivalries.

Maybe you’ve heard stories about what happened a long time ago, when the Utes and Cougars would meet up on the gridiron every year (actually it’s only been two years since they last played. Just go along with it).

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s true…all of it.

Beck to Harline … Fourth-and-18 … Burton’s Block … Fandemonium — they’re real.

And the storylines surrounding this special Sin City edition of The Holy War only add to the rivalry’s legend. Here’s an overview of the major narratives at play going into Saturday’s game:

  • This will be the first Holy War game played outside of Utah.
  • It will be Bronco Mendenhall’s final game at BYU before leaving with the majority of his staff to Virginia. A win would be his 100th since taking over as head coach for the Cougars back in 2005.
  • Bronco will have one last chance to beat the Utes, whom he hasn’t won against since 2009, and then ride off into the desert sunset on top. Or he could drop his fifth-straight in the rivalry and be forced to once again confront suspender-wearing Utah fans as they pile onto the field.
  • Kyle Whittingham will have the chance to improve to 7-3 against BYU since becoming head coach in 2005.
  • Utah will have to play in the unenviable position of not necessarily needing to win so much as they need to not lose. A win over the Cougars wouldn’t really mean anything new for the Utes; but a loss to BYU would have the effect of somewhat delegitimizing what has been Utah’s most successful Pac-12 season thus far.
  • Travis Wilson has one last chance to prove that he can complete over 50 percent of his passes when he doesn’t have Devontae Booker standing next to him in the backfield. Wilson is 23-of-52 passing for 218 yards, one touchdown and one interception since Booker sustained a season-ending knee injury against Arizona on Nov. 14.
  • The winner achieves a double-digit win season and likely finishes ranked within the AP Top 25.
BYU running back Jamaal Williams (21) cuts through the Utah defense during the second quarter of the Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 game in Salt Lake City. A new pair of games will be played in 2017 and 2018. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Former BYU running back Jamaal Williams cuts through the Utah defense in the 2012 Holy War. Utah won the game 24-21. (AP photo)

The only thing more interesting than the actual game may be the pre-bowl events in the days leading up to it, which should afford plenty of awkward, forced interaction between the rival players and coaches. Here’s what I’m most interested to see:

  • How will Bronco prepare his team for Wednesday’s Family Feud and dance-off competitions at the bowl’s welcoming reception? Will he take it any differently since it’s Utah they’re competing against, or will he treat it the same way he would any other opponent?
  • Will Bronco and Whittingham be forced to sit next to each other during the coaching staffs’ private Thursday night viewing of Cirque Du Soleil?
  • How long before a fight breaks out among opposing fans during Friday’s Freemont Experience Pep Rally, and what are the odds it involves a BYU fan and Utah cheerleader? Also, will the “Power of the Wasatch” and “Pride of Utah” marching bands be collaborating for a special musical performance here, or do they save all that for Saturday’s halftime show?

It’s almost time for us to find out, because for the first time in 27 months, Rivalry Week is back on in Utah.

Maybe you wanted this matchup to be avoided; maybe you felt the game had grown out of hand and had become too vitriolic for its own good. But to unexpectedly get it now, at the end of the year, in Bronco’s final game — well, it just feels right. So here’s my advice:

The rivalry — it’s calling to you. Just let it in…

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