Rivalry ranks high nationally

By By Jason Peterson

By Jason Peterson

Two years ago, The Wall Street Journal released its list of the 11 best college football rivalries in the nation.

The renowned publication, although not typically known for its sports opinions, claimed these rankings were based on a formulaic approach that included margins of victory, lead changes, recent outcomes and overall quality of the rivalry.

The rivalry between BYU and Utah checked in at No. 4, tying the popular Ohio State-Michigan matchup.

Mass publicity apparently wasn’t part of the formula.

Many across the country spoke out, saying Utah’s own “Holy War” is a little overrated.

But why is that? Is it because the national media view this rivalry as nothing more than a sibling quarrel? Is it because few consider the Mountain West Conference a legitimate threat to other gridiron powerhouses?

Tim Buckley, a sportswriter for the Deseret Morning News who hails from Missouri, said that perception is partially accurate.

“No one outside of the Rocky Mountains really cares what’s going on with Utah and BYU, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good rivalry,” Buckley said.

Buckley grew up observing the clashes between Kansas and Missouri. Although these schools aren’t exactly Michigan and Ohio State, Buckley said they still make for an entertaining pair — especially because both are enjoying successful seasons this year.

“You’ve got Florida-Florida State, UCLA-USC and some of the bigger ones,” Buckley said. “And then you have smaller schools like Harvard-Yale and Lehigh-Lafayette, who also have great rivalries because of their history. A very high percentage of those communities are involved with their rivalries.”

In other words, publicity isn’t requisite for establishing a great rivalry.

Loren Jorgensen, who also writes sports for the Deseret Morning News, grew up in Utah and attended the U. Having experienced the full force of the “Holy War,” Jorgensen said there is a unique combination of aspects that few other rivalries possess.

“It’s the proximity, the religion and the fact (that) they just hate each other so much,” he said. “The games have been close for the past 20 years or so, no matter how much better one team is supposed to be than the other.”

Jim Burton of the Ogden Standard-Examiner disagreed.

“The fans do hate each other here, but it’s not on the same level as Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama,” Burton said.

Utah safety Sean Smith acknowledged that the hype leading up to the annual battle with BYU serves as extra motivation.

“It’s crazy, man,” said Smith, who comes from predominantly UCLA territory in Pasadena. “People that don’t even watch football get into it. The fans, players and coaches — everybody is excited and intense. We walk around and feel that intensity and it makes it that much more fun.”

U quarterback Brian Johnson said the rivalry with BYU has had far-reaching effects, extending into his own family.

“(BYU receiver) Michael Reed is my cousin,” Johnson said. “So yeah, we give each other a hard time about it.”

Indeed, the rivalry pervades just about anyone who ventures within the Salt Lake and Utah valleys. Even journalistic integrity is subject to the “Holy War’s” influence.

“BYU’s biggest rival is forward-thinking,” Burton said.

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