Pac-12 football: Utah, Colorado keep their rivalry games

2011-09-14T00:01:00Z 2014-07-08T15:43:52Z Pac-12 football: Utah, Colorado keep their rivalry gamesPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 14, 2011 12:01 am  • 

The game comes earlier in the year now, and without the implication of a Mountain West Conference championship on the line.

Don't confuse Utah's rivalry game against BYU on Saturday with just another big game, however.

"I believe it's the biggest single sporting event in the course of the year" in the state, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's the biggest thing that happens in this state, as far as that goes.

"This state, like any other great rivalry, you're either red or blue. There's no middle ground."

Rivalry games tend to boil the culture of a football program down, concentrating the best - and, sometimes, worst - of a program into an easy-to-see display for fans nationwide.

For that reason, Pac-12 followers might want to turn toward the mountains this weekend.

Utah will play BYU, with each trying to claim the Deseret Duel title and the Beehive Boot.

And Colorado will face rival Colorado State in downtown Denver, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, with state supremacy at stake.

Neither rivalry game is a conference contest, not after Utah and Colorado joined the Pac-12 this year and BYU went independent.

But they're important - for different, less tangible, reasons.

Buffaloes coach Jon Embree played his first-ever home game, in 1983, against the Rams.

"This rivalry has always been a special rivalry for me and has always meant a lot," said Embree, a former CU tight end. "As a coach, knowing what this game means to the local people … it's a special rivalry."

While in the Big 12, the Buffaloes' annual tussle with Nebraska drew more attention than the game against the Rams of Fort Collins.

"The Colorado State game is an exciting game," said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, the head coach at CU from 1995 to 1998, "but certainly had no bearing on where you stood in the conference. …

"It was an important game for both schools. Obviously, any time you're playing an in-state adversary, you're excited about it.

"The fans' excitement gets to be something that's fun for everybody."

The Beehive State battle is far less cordial.

"The communities get excited," said Whittingham, a 1984 BYU graduate. "And the players, there's no need for a coach, in a week like this, to need to worry about getting a team up for the game.

"It takes care of itself."

The Cougars and Utes don't fight for recruits, Whittingham said, outside of about a half-dozen in-state players.

Not having a conference title on the line, or playing the rivalry as the regular-season finale, gives the game a "different flavor and a different feel," he said.

That won't diminish the game.

"It's such a big event in this state. It is the event, as far as the sporting event, every year," Whittingham said.

"It's going to be every bit as intense, and heated. It's for in-state bragging rights and all those things that go along with it."

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