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BOULDER, Colo. — College football rivalries are not something one can just dictate between two teams and expect them to hate each other over night.
Colorado, however, is putting forth its share of the work in the stilted rivalry that the Pac-12 conference has forced upon it and fellow 2011 conference newcomer, Utah.
The Buffaloes, finishing off a more than forgettable 2011 campaign, managed to execute arguably their best game of the 2011 season when they went into Rice-Eccles Stadium and beat the highly-favored Utes, 17-14. The upset kept Utah from clinching the Pac-12 South division — remember, USC was under sanctions — and thus an appearance in the first-ever Pac-12 championship game. UCLA played in the title game instead.
Fast forward one year, and you have two teams closing out lousy seasons rather than just one. Neither team would be eligible for a bowl. Pride was the only thing on the line.
And for Utah, revenge for last season should have also been on the line — the perfect fuel for a flickering rivalry.
But the emotion — the passion — just wasn't there. Utah came out and played like it hardly cared about the outcome. And although neither team had had a decent season, the Utes were still highly favored to win, despite not having won a single road game all year.
The Utah defense gave up 418 total yards to a team that averaged less than 300. It let a backup quarterback in an extremely poor passing offense throw for over 300 yards. Colorado ranked No. 123 in the FBS (second to last) in total scoring, putting an average of just 16.3 points on the board per game over the course of the season. The Utes allowed the Buffaloes to score 35.
Utah trailed Colorado 28-20 heading into the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for Utah fans, the Utes woke up in the fourth period, outscoring Colorado 22-7 to hold on for the victory, just their fifth of the season.
It took five forced turnovers, a 168-yard rushing outing for John White, and yet another epic Reggie Dunn 100-yard kickoff return for Utah to clinch a 7-point win over arguably the worst team in college football's FBS.
Those turnovers, along with White's and Dunn's performances, were virtually the only positives in the win. Just about everything else — missed tackles throughout the game, soft and/or blown coverages, inconsistent quarterback and offensive line play, dropped passes, special teams blunders, penalties and mental errors — was a negative.
For Colorado, its 1-11 2012 record is the worst season in school history. The Buffaloes went 0-4 in their inaugural 1890 season, but every year since they have posted a better winning percentage than they did in 2012. Their only win this year was a 1-point decision at Washington State, making this the first season since 1920 in which Colorado failed to win a game on its home field.
Despite a historically bad season, the Buffaloes took the Utes to the wire, and weren't too far from coming away with a colossal upset for the second-straight year. And credit the Buffs for showing up and playing with the emotion of a true rivalry game, despite the fact this "rivalry" has a long way to go.
Colorado is holding up its end. If the Utes don't start bringing that same fire and passion, it will soon become a legitimate rivalry for reasons unfavorable to Utah — being outplayed by an inferior team year after year.
Tyson Maddy has covered the University of Utah football and men's basketball teams as a contributing writer for KSL.com Sports since 2011.