BYU Football: Conference realignment killed the Holy War

The Holy War is dead, and conference realignment killed it 

In case you missed it, on Saturday night, BYU lost its seventh in a row to Utah. And frankly, it’s doubtful the Cougars will beat their rival any time soon.

In fact, given the state of the programs, the Holy War can hardly be called a rivalry anymore. And that’s a shame.

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The BYU-Utah rivalry would be alive and well if it weren’t for conference realignment. BYU hasn’t beaten Utah since the Utes landed a spot in the PAC-12 conference, and that is largely due to the benefits Utah has reaped from Power 5 membership. The money and prestige of the PAC-12 brand has given Utah a huge recruiting edge, which has led to a team that is noticeably bigger, stronger, and faster than BYU. Consequently, the Utes have won the Holy War despite major mishaps–six turnovers last year and eleven penalties for ninety-seven yards this season.

Make no mistake: Utah was making huge strides even before it went to the PAC-12. It won two BCS bowl games and pumped out NFL draft picks, including a number one selection. But if the Cougars and Utes were both still in the Mountain West, the pendulum would be much more likely to eventually swing back to Provo because the schools would be playing from the same deck. As it is, Utah will be playing with aces up its sleeves every year, and the talent gap will only increase.

Conference realignment also killed the Holy War by destroying the significance of the game. The Utes and Cougars used to meet up in November in what was often a de facto conference championship game. Now, for Utah, BYU is merely an emotional and interesting warm-up for PAC-12 play. The game means a lot for bragging rights, but very little for season outlooks.

As a result, the rivalry is no longer fun. Although the scores are close, beating the Cougars is basically a lock for the Utes, regardless of whether they play in Salt Lake, Provo, or Las Vegas. The Utes continue to put guys in the NFL while BYU is lucky to get a single player drafted. And the in-state recruiting battle is bound to become even more lopsided as Utah points to its recent dominance over BYU and flashes its P5 money.

When there is little hope for parity and very little at stake, it’s not really a rivalry.

College football will miss the Holy War.

About the author

Andy Kartchner

I have a Ph.D. in sports analytics. No I don't. But I do have a law degree. And if there's one thing I learned in law school, it's how to write about sports.

I am Big Bro. My brother, Aaron (a.k.a. Little Bro), and I make up the Sports Bros, your one-stop shop for everything BYU sports.


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  • So Andy as far as you’re concerned the final nail has been put in BYU’s coffin for this rivalry? I wouldn’t count on that just yet. We have a new coaching staff which includes a head coach and an offensive coordinator just starting their 2nd season in those positions at this level. Whitt has how many years now at utah? And true he brought in another new OC but the guy he brought in has prior experience. We need to give BYU a little more time to see if they can figure things out before we write off the rivalry.

    • Those are fair points. And if Sitake and Detmer are able to recruit players that can keep up with Utah then I will happily eat crow. But right now it seems clear that P5 membership is necessary to recruit the guys necessary to complete with P5 schools.

  • As long as the game is played, the rivalry is not dead. Look at other traditional rivalries in college football. No one would say that the Notre Dame and Navy football game isn’t a rivalry, yet Notre Dame at one point ripped off a 40+ game win streak.

    BYU and Utah both have win streaks of over 9 wins. Was it no longer a rivalry then?

    Rivalries aren’t rivalries based on competitiveness (and even though Utah has a long win streak, these games are ultra-competitive). They’re based on the fan’s feelings toward each other, and tradition. This game is still a rivalry, and will be so long as it’s played.

    I completely disagree with your post.

  • Conference re-alignment didn’t need to kill the rivalry. BYU could have shed it’s bigotry towards our LGBTQA neighbors, thus qualifying itself for acceptance into a P5 conference, thus reaping the same cash and recruiting advantage the U of U enjoys, thus preserving the Holy War.

    Coogs took themselves out. Now they need to own it.

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