O’Connell: Best of Utah – Bragging Rights To Utah, BYU and USU Football

Aug 26, 2019, 1:51 PM

Utah Utes cheerleaders perform during the first of an college football game against the San Jose St...

Utah Utes cheerleaders perform during the first of an college football game against the San Jose State Spartans on September 16, 2017 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images) Brigham Young Cougars mascot Cosmo the Cougar runs onto the field at the beginning of the team's game against the Utah Utes in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 19, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Utah won 35-28. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen waves during the 2005 NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony on August 7, 2005 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – With the college football season so tantalizingly close, and with so much optimism in the air for Utah, BYU, and USU fans (see my column about it), I decided to take a look at bragging rights for the respective schools.

Not the kind of bragging rights where you have a year’s worth of gloating credibility because your favorite team won the last matchup. I mean the kind where the program gets to claim the high ground long term.

Let’s take a look at who has bragging rights in a few categories out of the three in-state big boys.

Best Game Day Experience – Utah State

Logan is a phenomenal college town, and when the Aggies are good, you get the sense that the whole place shuts down and packs the stadium.

BYU’s pregame experience is all about finding the best and cheapest parking, and at Utah, it’s people-watching the fans in the tailgate lot that didn’t pace themselves for an evening kickoff. Sorry, my fellow football fans in Utah, we are just good at this part.

The edge goes to the Aggies when it comes to game day experience.

Best Food (outside of the stadium) – Utah

Not everybody gets to snack on the delicacies generated by the Utah Pig Bus, but The Pie Pizzeria is available to the masses.  Shoutout to the BYU Creamery and Cache Valley Cheese, but The Pie Pizza with its delightfully heavy slices and world-class ranch leave me with the best kind of culinary regret.

Best Stadium Food – BYU

While I am an animal lover and do not support the killing of majestic wild predators, I might change my tune if actual cougar tails were as delicious as the Cougar Tails of LaVell Edwards Stadium.

What’s that?  I can use this absurdly long maple bar donut as a bratwurst bun?!  Truly one of the best Frankenfoods in all of college football, not just here in Utah.

Best Mascot BYU

Cosmo is an icon in the YouTube era, as much as Utes and Aggies might hate it. Somehow, in defiance of all reason, the BYU Cougar consistently displays rhythm, flexibility, and dance moves that are completely incongruous with the bulk of the student body he represents.

Almost the antithesis to the BYU stereotype, Cosmo is not the hero the BYU fan base deserves, but certainly, the one they need.

Best Fan – Utah

Long live “Crazy Lady”!  I know in recent years she’s been demoted and discouraged, but the way her self-choreographed dance became a cult sensation with the Utah Band and MUSS completely organically is as pure and wonderful as it gets.

Crazy Lady only slightly edged out “Wild Bill” of USU fame.  Mostly because she is just somebody’s awesome and eccentric grandmother, and it gets weirder and weirder for a large fellow to join the student section at games as he gets older.  Not your fault Bill, it’s just the rules of society.

Best Student Section- ….

Whichever one actually sells out their membership and allotment of tickets most consistently. And whichever one came up with the acronym name for themselves first. Copying that from an in-state rival is just painfully lame. I’ll let you all decide who is the chicken and who is the egg on this one.

Best Season – BYU 1984 National Championship

You can nitpick the system that crowned the Cougars and get mad that nobody in Provo will let it go if you want. The fact remains, BYU’s Natty is in the record books, legit, and deserved.

Best Cheerleaders – Utah

While I want to make it clear that I do not condone unsanctioned violence – I think it’s obvious that any spirit squad that exhibits the pugilistic acumen Billy Priddis showed when a BYU fan tried to steal the Utah flag from him during the 1999 Rivalry Game is going to get my vote.

Also, I have friends who either were Utah cheerleaders, married Utah cheerleaders, or both.

Best Team – Utah 2008 Sugar Bowl Champions

With all due respect to the aforementioned 1984 Cougars, the 1961 Aggies, and Fiesta Bowl Utes; if we could line all of these teams up and have them play one another, it would be the 2008 Utes that reigned supreme.

This was a hard call to make because of the greatness of so many coaches and players who were involved in those other teams, but the Sugar Bowl squad had NINE players on the defense who went on to play more than one season in the NFL. Paul Kruger, Sealver Siliga, Koa Misi, Robert Johnson, Sean Smith, Brice McCain, Stevenson Sylvester, Derrick Shelby, and Brandon Burton. Throw in Zane Beadles, Caleb Schlauderaff, David Reed, and Matt Asiata from the offensive side of the ball – you have the most talented team ever assembled in the Deseret State.

I could also mention all of the guys who were “just” great college players like Brian Johnson, Mike Wright, King Louie, etc. but it just comes off as gushing, because you get the point.


Best Coach – BYU

This one feels a little unfair because we are still watching a couple of candidates build on whatever their final legacy in coaching will be. Right now, it’s obviously LaVell Edwards. More impressive than him coaching the Cougars to a National Championship is the way he made BYU into a recognizable brand, a quarterback factory, and somehow even made a dry Pleasantville suburb like Provo a cool destination for guys who had options to play anywhere.

Edwards helped pioneer a new style of offense that sparked the evolution of wide-open passing systems like we see today. The stadium in the shadow of Y Mountain bears his name for good reason, and we don’t have Kyle Whittingham without the LaVell Edwdards/Fred Whittingham relationship, so even Utah fans should get on board with this one.

Side Note: If Urban Meyer unretires and wins another National Championship at another school, he’ll make the shortlist for greatest coaches in the history of the game, but he didn’t stay here at Utah to do it, so he’s disqualified.

Best Player Utah State

How do you choose one guy out of all of the great players to have represented a top university in our great state? Detmer won the Heisman, Steve Young led my beloved 49ers to a Super Bowl victory (coached by a great Ute in George Seifert), Vai Sikahema was unstoppable as a return man in Tecmo Bowl. None of these Cougars and not even the greatest Utes have ever displayed the longevity of dominance that Merlin Olsen treated Aggie and LA Rams fans to.

Twice he was named a first-team All-American for the Aggies. He won the 1961 Outland Trophy, and was a top 3 pick in both the NFL and AFL drafts in 1962.  He anchored defensive lines that ranked #1 against the run in college for the Aggies, and #1 against the run in the NFL for the Rams. He made the Pro-Bowl in 14 of his 15 NFL seasons, was named All-Pro eight times, and made the list of top 50 players in the history of the NFL. In addition to all of that he was named MVP of several bowl games and postseason all-star games while graduating Summa Cum Laude as a three-time Academic All-American.

Merlin Olsen holds a deserved place in both the college football and pro football Halls of Fame. He was also notable in the world of wholesome family entertainment, having starred in Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy after his career was over. The anecdotal stories of his generosity and personable nature are myriad. Simply put, he excelled in every area of his life.

“Legend” is a term often overused, but in the case of Merlin, it might be an understatement. Pretty clear that even amongst so many great players in the anals of Utah college football history nobody else stacks up.

So there you have it. Bragging rights aplenty spread around to each of this great state’s FBS programs.

Let the season begin!

  • Utah Utes Scoreboard

  • Utah Utes Team Leaders

  • Utah Utes Standings

  • BYU Cougars Scoreboard

  • BYU Cougars Team Leaders

  • BYU Cougars Standings

  • Utah State Aggies Scoreboard

  • Utah State Aggies Team Leaders

  • Utah State Aggies Standings

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O’Connell: Best of Utah – Bragging Rights To Utah, BYU and USU Football