PROVO — For one side, the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl might as well be the Super Bowl. A chance to knock off a rival, against its will, despite a tremendous effort to stop scheduling it in the regular season. A chance to finish with a better record than its rival, and enter a pivotal offseason with momentum as it looks to hire a new coach and change the face of its football program.
For the other, the game is absolutely worthless. A win offers little more than the personal pride of knocking off its rival, something its accomplished several times in the past. Next year, it will be more important to win a conference title, and prove it belongs playing with the bigger names in its conference. There will be a new quarterback, a new schedule and a new set of challenges with faint hopes of appearing in a New Year's Six bowl game.
The first party is obviously BYU. Playing against the University of Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, in a season that found BYU out of the chase for one of college football's biggest bowl games just three weeks in the season, is an ideal way to climb to 10 wins, potentially jump into the top 25, and send its coach off to Virginia with a memorable final victory.
The second party?
That's Bronco Mendenhall.
As much emotion, and for as many magical storylines tied to the Vegas Bowl for BYU's outgoing coach, the game, in all actuality, offers little benefit for Mendenhall.
Win or lose, Virginia fans are rooting for their new coach to be a savior, a guiding light out of the darkness that hung over the Mike London era. Regardless of the outcome, he won't lose his new job with the Cavaliers, or his gaudy $3.25 million, but he doesn't stand to gain much either.
While a win may give BYU fans a warm parting gift for their oft-criticized head coach, those feelings will last only until the Cougars hire a new coach. For Virginia fans, a BYU win over Utah will be a positive talking point but will be far in the backs of their minds come ACC play next season. A loss will do nothing but give the naysayers ammunition for their complaints.
And yet, Mendenhall embraces the rivalry even on his way out the door.
It's time for Utah fans to do the same.
Utes fans aren't wrong when they say they have little to gain by beating BYU. Head-to-head recruiting is at an all-time low, it won't move the needle nationally for the AP Top 25 voters and fans will chalk it up to a Pac-12 team knocking off a lower-level independent opponent. A loss to BYU does more to boost BYU's image than a win does to benefit Utah. The Cougars can show evidence of increased competitiveness without the benefits of belonging to a major conference.
But this can be said about every game against a non-Power-5 opponent. Utah, as a good Pac-12 team, will draw the attention of every lower conference team it plays, and the Utes are bound to lose along the way. That opponent will use Utah as an example of a team it can beat to draw in recruits, and Utes fans will lament missed opportunities of losing to a team they feel they should have defeated.
How does that differ with BYU?
Mendenhall's decision to stay behind and coach the Cougars in the Las Vegas Bowl does little to benefit him, and will likely put him behind the eight-ball when it comes to recruiting in the ACC because he's missing a valuable two weeks to be meeting with potential recruits, but he's not letting that belittle the fun the of the rivalry game.
Though he's been an enemy of the Utes going on 11 years, maybe it's time for Utah fans to look at their rival down south and embrace their inner Bronco Mendenhall.