I think I finally found it. The circumstance that will finally turn me off of the BYU vs. Utah Rivalry. Not-so-affectionately referred to by some as the “Holy War”. I’ve always loved the rivalry game. Even most of the tomfoolery that surrounds it, but the lamenting of Utah fans and the smugness of BYU fans (even before the game is played) might finally see me join the ranks of those who are ‘over it’. Lack of consistency. Lack of offense. Lack of depth. Lack of enthusiasm. Lack of respect. And now, Lack of tickets to the same bowl game that Ute fans don’t even want to be in. These are the narratives that somehow cling to Utah’s best-ever season in the Pac-12. It’s a rough situation for a team that’s played well, but not GREAT. It’s a rough place for fans to be, stuck between pride over a potential 10-win season and the perception that you are only as good as your bowl invite says you are.
Sunday’s invitation to the Vegas Bowl was a complete disaster for Utah Football (fans). All of the excitement, hard work, joy, pain, and hand-wringing has led to…. The same place you were in 2014. A slightly better season should warrant a slightly better bowl game shouldn’t it? The obvious answer from Sun Bowl, Holiday Bowl, and Foster Farms Bowl execs was “NO!”. Mounting injuries to Utah’s most compelling players, an anemic offense, and the Las Vegas Bowl’s enthusiasm to create their own ‘dream’ matchup probably didn’t help the Utes’ case either. A conflict between a Runnin’ Utes game at Madison Square Garden vs. Duke and kickoff in Vegas only adds to the misery. Ute fans don’t care that this will be Bronco’s last ride at BYU. They don’t. Some might even secretly fear that BYU can actually beat the Utes because of the way injuries have set in late in the season. It is the CLASSIC lose-lose scenario. A real nightmare. Vegas is a good time, typically. Vegas with 35,000 folks in blue; clogging buffet lines, rocking braided belts and K-Swiss sneakers, tipping 8% at the hotel restaurant and screaming “Let’s Fetching Go!!!!” at kickoff”? I can see why it’s going to be hard for Utah fans to want this.
Still, they will still get whatever scant few tickets are left because the die-hards (and this team doesn’t have as many of those as they should) feel obligated to go support the team. They hate the matchup, but they want to buy the tickets. Because they must. I am learning –because of a few (perhaps ill-advised) tweets I sent- that the dedicated Utah fans will swallow this matchup like my nephew chokes down his vegetables. Sometimes you just have to.
So maybe even a trip to El Paso “America’s Armpit” Texas would have been better. That’s an ACC matchup (8-4 Miami) at least, and apparently far fewer people felt obligated to travel. After all, the day after Christmas is tough. So a better game on TV then. I’m not enthusiastic about something like that, but Utes fans seemed to be. I guess it’s technically a more prestigious bowl, but if we are being honest it isn’t really. The Sun Bowl only seems cool now because anything is better than what you’ve been given.
Several fans and media outlets have astutely pointed out the fact that this Bowl Bid seems to send the message “win your division or you will get the Vegas Bowl.” Correct. That is the message being sent. And it should not shock you. Utah Football plays an Old-School (boring?) brand of football. Unless you do that REALLY well -well enough to compete for a championship at the end of the season- you are going to be treated like the unpopular stinky kid come Bowl Selection time. It’s not fair. But nobody cares. Not outside of the state of Utah at least. The new kids on the block don’t get treated like equals. Utah football will not be granted proper respect by Bowl committees, national media, or pollsters until they WIN when a championship bid is on the line. Until they make the necessary extra plays against UCLA or Arizona to separate themselves from their more popular, more established, more exciting competitors THIS is how Utah will be treated. The fact that you have to play against “little brother” BYU in Vegas certainly adds insult to the injury, but the real injury is a self-inflicted one. Because when the Utes still controlled their own destiny, they came up short. At least twice, no matter how you look at it. So the Vegas Bowl is the unfortunate medicine Ute fans are now forced to take. Fairness is not part of the equation until you force it. The snub is reality for Utah. There is only one way to change that, and it’s to WIN. When it matters most. In the MWC the Utes proved that they could. In the Pac-12, not quite yet…
This team, and its fantastic group of seniors, might deserve better than another Vegas Bowl bid. But teams like Utah don’t get what they deserve, they get what they earn. They get what they DEMAND. Fans, unfortunately, don’t even get that. They get what is given to them, and have no control over any of it.
See you in Vegas. Where the cheap hotel rooms are already overbooked…
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