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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football's impressive run over the last full three seasons in the Pac-12 has created better storylines in the conference but won't alter one undeniable fact.
Dominating Oregon twice last season and wrestling away control of the South Division from USC doesn't mean the Utes have a new primary rival. That distinguished title, now and forever, belongs to BYU.
Eleven seasons removed from the two programs going their separate ways, nothing has changed. Not even the decision to take periodic breaks in the series can decrease the intensity between the two fan bases.
Locals from both sides can argue all they want to the contrary, but few would agree. Anecdotal evidence from a respected national writer adds more proof.
Responding to a question in a mailbag column for The Athletic website, Stewart Mandel took a humorous angle in referencing the rivalry between BYU and Utah. Essentially believing Utah is not worthy of all the preseason hype, the reader (identified as Chris L.) listed potential negatives facing this year's team.
"Seriously, why are the Utes ranked so high? Cam Rising isn't an elite QB. They don't have a proven RB1. WRs are suspect. They lost the heart and soul of their D (Devin Lloyd) to the NFL. Their only wins last year during their Rose Bowl run were to Weber State and bad Pac-12 teams."
Mandel's response: "Well, it's good to see we have at least one BYU subscriber."
There you have it. Before beginning to debunk any of the false claims, Mandel went right to the heart of the matter.
Mandel reasoned the questioner was a BYU fan, likely nauseated at the constant love coach Kyle Whittingham and his program have received since dominating the Pac-12 last season and making the Rose Bowl for the first time. Only BYU fans, not those from any Pac-12 school, would bother generating hatred for Utah months before the season starts.
As expected from those paying attention, Mandel swatted down the points Chris L. made. And he barely had to lift a finger doing it.
"You're selling the 2021 Utes short on several fronts," Mandel wrote. "He may not count as 'elite,' but Rising was the third-rated passer in the Pac-12 last season. No proven RB1? Are you under the impression Tavion Thomas left the program? And I seem to remember the Utes twice destroying a 10-win Oregon team that beat Ohio State. Maybe not the same as beating the Buckeyes themselves, but quite a few rungs up from Weber State."
Well said. Whittingham has built a formidable national program that will be favored to repeat as Pac-12 championships and contend for one of the berths in the four-team playoff. The Utes can handle a strong nonconference schedule.
There's no need to swap out BYU the next two seasons to play a home-and-home series with Florida, which certainly is a great opportunity for the Utes. It doesn't have to be an either-or situation, although a nonconference slate of Florida, BYU and Baylor (which is on Utah's schedule in 2023) is probably excessive.
Any program of the proven stature of Utah is capable of scheduling Florida and BYU in the same season and still compete favorably during conference play. The Pac-12, which is doing away with the two divisions, is not exactly a murderous row of weekly competition.
The same goes for BYU as it enters the Big 12 after more than a decade of playing as an independent. The upcoming version of the Big 12, once Texas and Oklahoma leave for the Southeastern Conference, will offer BYU a few easy wins that should allow for scheduling Utah every year.
Longstanding rivalries sets the sport apart from the NFL, especially now with the advent of college players getting paid. Along those lines, it's also sad that BYU dropped its series with Utah State after playing the upcoming season.