Cougar Sports Roundtable: BYU’s ‘Horns Down’ Drama, Football Rivalry With Utah

Jan 29, 2024, 10:54 AM | Updated: 11:01 am

BYU Football, Utah Rivalry, Kalani Sitake, Kyle Whittingham...

When should the Big 12 schedule BYU football against rival Utah? (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The Cougar Sports Roundtable is a weekly BYU football, basketball, and athletics feature on KSL Sports with KSL NewsRadio’s Cougar Sports Saturday team of BYU Insider Mitch Harper, Matt Baiamonte, and Nate Slack. You can listen to them on Saturdays from Noon to 3 p.m. on 102.7 FM, 1160 AM, or On-Demand on the Cougar Sports Saturday podcast.

PROVO, Utah – It’s time for another week of the Cougar Sports Roundtable. This week’s three questions center around BYU’s NCAA Tournament chances, the Horns Down drama, and when the football rivalry against Utah should be played annually.

Is BYU Basketball a “lock” to play in the 2024 NCAA Tournament?

Nate Slack: I don’t think BYU’s a lock yet, but they’re inching closer. I believe they need eight conference wins to be considered a lock. They still have a good shot to get in with seven wins, but I think eight is the sweet spot.

Sitting at 3-4 right now with a softer February schedule than they faced in January, I feel pretty good about BYU securing a spot in March Madness. I hope they can get a good enough seed to play the first few games in the Delta Center.

Matt Baiamonte: I believe BYU is a lock to make the tournament because I think there are at least four wins on the conference schedule slate. 

Let’s not forget that the Cougars have not been blown out in any conference loss. They should have beaten the team at the top of the Big 12 standings currently, Texas Tech. 

It’s critical that BYU wins home games upcoming against teams like Kansas State, UCF, and Oklahoma State. 

Cougar Nation has been unbelievable in the Marriott Center this year. Houston, one of the country’s best teams, struggled in Provo at times. It’s a tough place to play for road teams. 

The Big 12 has proven to be the best league yet again. Because of that, I believe at least 10 teams will make the tournament from that conference. BYU will be one of those teams.

Mitch Harper: I’m with Matt here in my confidence that BYU will earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. A big reason for my confidence is the recent play of Noah Waterman and Fousseyni Traore. Noah Waterman has scored 17+ points in the last three games he has appeared in (out against Texas Tech).

Traore appears to be back to who he was before suffering the hamstring injury against NC State in November. His presence alone gives BYU a threat in the post. Look at how Texas heavily defended the three-point line. BYU adapted and put together a 40-point outing in the paint, thanks to Traore and Waterman.

What did you think of BYU officials asking students to remove the t-shirts that spelled out “Horns Down” against Texas?

Baiamonte: I didn’t love BYU administration asking students to remove t-shirts spelling out “Horns Down.” Road venues are meant to be hostile. If these students had crossed the line, then absolutely step in. However, I don’t think horns down is crossing the line. It’s one thing to do it in the postgame handshake line like UCF did weeks ago. 

BYU has been on the other end of things, “crossing the line” over the years when BYU football was at places like Stanford and Oregon. “Horns Down” doesn’t even come too close to those events.

Slack: What a mess this whole thing was. When did BYU become so soft that high-ups in the athletic department had to tell students not to try to get into the heads of the opponent? This isn’t a personal attack or a slam against some sort of cultural or religious belief. The internet went from “Texas is so soft” to “Wow, BYU is even softer than Texas” embarrassingly quickly after it was revealed that Texas hadn’t requested that the shirts be removed. It’s a bummer that BYU turned harmless smack talk into a national story.

Harper: There was no need for BYU to step in and tell the students to remove the shirts. That action turned it into a story. BYU has always tried to take the high road on things, which is understandable considering they are owned and operated by a religious sponsor. But this was a miscalculation.

Texas coach Rodney Terry praised the atmosphere created by BYU fans at the Marriott Center after the game.

Let’s go over to BYU football. The Big 12 schedule is dropping this week. When do you want the BYU/Utah rivalry to be played annually?

Slack: I’m all in on playing the BYU/Utah game in the final week of the season. Taking it even a step further, I’d like to see it be played on Thanksgiving Day or the day after.

Football is already a staple on Thanksgiving, so I think it would be great to put the game on FOX after the day of NFL games.

There’s been so much competition between FOX and ESPN recently we might as well add to it and place the best Big 12 rivalry on FOX to go head-to-head with the Egg Bowl on ESPN Thanksgiving night.

Baiamonte: There’s only one acceptable time of the year for the rivalry. It’s the final game of the season. If that game is scheduled at any other time, it will be a huge disappointment. 

All the biggest rivalry games in college football are played in the last week of the season. BYU football versus Utah belongs in the same spot.

The one thing the Big 12 lacked before adding the four corner schools was deep-rooted rivalries. Having BYU versus Utah, Arizona versus Arizona State, and other pre-existing games should all be the final week of the season.

Harper: I’m afraid I have to disagree with both of you guys, so hear me out on this one.

Why not have BYU-Utah play in the same timeframe as the Red River Rivalry (Texas-Oklahoma)? That’s a mid-October date.

My argument for a mid-October meeting is that the stakes could be higher.

In the WAC and Mountain West eras, it wasn’t common for BYU and Utah to have a conference title on the line in the final game. The game has always centered around bragging rights.

I have an easier time imagining BYU football and Utah squaring off as two 6-0 teams instead of two 10-1 or 11-0 squads.

If played on the final weekend, it will get lost in the shuffle of the SEC and Big Ten rivalries. As much as this state loves BYU/Utah, will it grab a national audience over Michigan/Ohio State, Auburn/Alabama, or the return of Texas/Texas A&M?

Also, LSU/Oklahoma joins the final weekend, along with Washington/Oregon.

Those games will take up many of the marquee windows from FOX and ESPN. Unless, to Nate’s point, it was placed on Thanksgiving night. But who wants BYU/Utah on a short week?

Everything the Big 12 does going forward has to be creative. Placing the best rivalry in the conference at the midway point of the season could be a tentpole event for Yormark’s new league.

Also, playing the game in October instead of November might lead to healthier rosters.

Imagine if the rivalry game had been played last year on Thanksgiving weekend. The starting quarterbacks would have been Jake Retzlaff (BYU) and Luke Bottari (Utah).

Playing at the midway point of the season gives a better likelihood of the full rosters being on display in the biggest game of the year. That’s what we all want, right?

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

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Cougar Sports Roundtable: BYU’s ‘Horns Down’ Drama, Football Rivalry With Utah