Big 12 Fans, Get To Know The BYU/Utah Rivalry

Aug 7, 2023, 10:56 AM | Updated: 11:08 am

SALT LAKE CITY – One of the great aspects of the latest round of conference realignment is the return of the BYU/Utah rivalry in the Big 12 Conference.

The intensity, nastiness, and hatred of this rivalry will make the outgoing Big 12 rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma seem like a cute fairground attraction.

BYU/Utah, in a power conference, will take on a stage that it has never experienced before. The nation will become more aware of this rivalry than ever before.

BYU/Utah: On a national stage for the first time

For years, games between the Cougars and Utes were local television contests on KSL or KUTV back in the 80s. During the WAC era, some garnered ESPN or even regional ABC windows. Then in the Mountain West, it was blanked by no coverage with ESPN+ (no, I’m not talking about the streaming service, instead, the old regional TV ESPN+ on KJZZ here in Utah) or, even worse, the mtn.

The Big 12, along with ESPN and FOX, should be thrilled to have this great series that brings a storied history but has tons of potential to grow as one of the nation’s great rivalry contests.

Former Utah head football coach Wayne Howard painted the hatred well after BYU chased an NCAA record for QB Marc Wilson in the 1977 contest in a blowout win.

“This today will be inspiring. The hatred between BYU and Utah is nothing compared to what it will be. It will be a crusade to beat BYU from now on,” Howard said. “This is a prediction: In the next two years, Utah will drill BYU someday, but we won’t run up the score even if we could set an NCAA record against them.”

History on the football field

What makes BYU/Utah fascinating is that you have state versus religion. You have two fan bases that feel they are complete opposites. Yet when you get down to it, there are many more similarities between the fans and programs than you realize.

The two schools can’t even agree on when the football series began. BYU claims 1922 as the first year. That was when BYU launched its football program. Meanwhile, Utah counts the games against Brigham Young Academy dating back to 1896.

Utah holds a 59-32-4 lead all-time over BYU if you track back to the 1922 matchups.

The Utes dominated BYU for the first 50 years of the rivalry. Then LaVell Edwards showed up in 1972 and changed BYU’s fortunes overnight as one of the great aerial passing attacks in college football. BYU had its run of dominance.

Then Ron McBride evened the series back up with both exchanging blows. Since then, Utah has come out victorious in nine of the last ten. But BYU has held the bragging rights since the last meeting in 2021.

The games always live up to the hype.

Fifteen of the last 20 meetings between these two heated rivals have been decided on the gridiron by one possession. That spans games in the Mountain West Conference era and during Utah’s time in the Pac-12 and BYU as an Independent.

But what’s even more notable than the games themselves is the sideshows that come with this rivalry.

The games beyond the field of play

How about a Utah cheerleader knocking out a BYU fan that jumped onto the field during a game? A Utah fan wearing suspenders confronting former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Mendenhall gave a death stare that looked like he was ready to enact what the Ute cheerleader had done years prior.

Then there’s Max Hall, who went scorched earth on Utah, saying he hated everything about them after taking down the Utes in an overtime win in 2009.

“I don’t like Utah. In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program. I hate their fans. I hate everything. So, it feels good to send those guys home. They didn’t deserve it. It was our time and it was our time to win. We deserved it. We played as hard as we could tonight, and it felt really good to send them home and to get them out of here, so it is a game I’ll always remember.”

Hall’s words created a line of clothing for Ute fans that have lasted more than a decade in rivalry circles.

The social media banter between these two is never-ending. Ute fans find BYU fans referencing their 1984 national championship as the most annoying thing in the world. BYU fans can’t stand rose emojis in a Ute fan’s social media handle.

Ute fans will say BYU fans spin losses as wins. BYU fans then tell Ute fans they didn’t exist before Urban Meyer showed up in 2003.

If a national college football writer compliments BYU, watch for a Utah fan to be in the replies shortly after.

Families are divided by this great series. The passion runs deep in the Beehive State. You’re either a Coug or a Ute.

No other annual matchup for these two schools produces the heartache or celebration of these games.

Brings out the emotion

At KSL’s Broadcast House, after the 2019 Utah victory over BYU, TV screens with a red background in the security area said, “9.” It was a subtle reference to Utah’s nine-game winning streak over their rival 45 miles south.

When BYU ended the losing streak in 2021 and secured their invitation as a Big 12 program that same weekend, the offices of Ute fans here at KSL were decorated with BYU decor.

You don’t get that when Utah plays Colorado. The same goes for when BYU played Boise State. Those are fun matchups, but this in-state game has meant a lot to many people.

Even with the two separated from each other since 2011, the banter never slowed down. Beginning in 2024, they will be reunited again–this time in the Big 12 Conference.

Utah didn’t want this outcome. BYU fans sure didn’t. But now that it’s officially back, a renewal of a great rivalry is a victory in this round of realignment.

Relationship between Kyle Whittingham and Kalani Sitake

The two current head coaches both experienced this game as players, now coaches. Kyle Whittingham played at BYU and has since entrenched in Utah football lore as the greatest coach in the program’s history. He mentored BYU coach Kalani Sitake, who worked as Whittingham’s defensive staff from 2005-2014.

“In my estimation, I haven’t been in the center of Michigan-Ohio State or UCLA-USC, but I can’t imagine they are any more intense or passionate than this rivalry,” Whittingham said leading up to the 2008 rivalry game against BYU. “We don’t get the national exposure that some of those other ones do. But as far as in-state pride and just sheer passion, it’s second to nobody.”

Since Sitake became BYU’s coach in 2016, there has been a healthy respect between the two coaching staffs.

“Coach Sitake has changed the rivalry in ways I did not see possible just a couple of years ago. His relationship with Coach Whittingham has obviously impacted the change,” said former Utah punter Tom Hackett in a KSL Sports column in 2019. “They play golf together throughout the summer months and are constantly talking to one another…something I know Coach Whittingham and Coach Mendenhall did not do.”

On the hardwood

The men’s basketball series between these schools has lacked juice for years. In the 1970s and early 80s, before the Utah Jazz showed up to town, the hoops contests were as big of a sporting event as anything this state offered. Now it gets reignited in the best basketball league in America.

Well, there was that brief moment over the past decade when the series paused due to “safety concerns” after former BYU player Nick Emery threw a punch at Utah’s Brandon Taylor in the 2015 game. The 2016 contest was canceled for $80,000. That cancellation caused the Utah legislature to launch an audit of the University of Utah’s athletic spending.

Again, if you’re new to this rivalry, imagine the wildest rivalry stories; this series has probably produced them already.

BYU leads the overall series in basketball 134-129. On the women’s side of the battles, the Lady Utes lead 68-42.

The competition between these two schools is going to become bucket list items to attend for Big 12 fans. With all due respect to Farmageddon (Kansas State vs. Iowa State), the Revivalry (Baylor vs. TCU), or the Territorial Cup (Arizona vs. Arizona State), BYU-Utah immediately jumps to the top of the best rivalries in the Big 12 from the moment it kicks off again in 2024.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on Twitter/X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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Big 12 Fans, Get To Know The BYU/Utah Rivalry