By Paul M. Banks
While working on a free-lance story about the economic impact of sports in UtahÂ for a regional business publication, I began to realize something. The beehive state is buzzing with two undefeated teams that are currently playing some really good football right now. The BYU Cougars, located in Provo and the University of Utah Utes, who reside in Salt Lake City, were both undefeated and ranked in the top 15 nationally at press time. (About half-way through the season) This yearâ€™s game between the two schools, nicknamed the â€œHoly Warâ€ and the â€œDeseret Dualâ€ could be the biggest game in the rivalryâ€™s storied history.
Prowling for Cougar Bait
In 2006, the Brigham Young University Cougars were ranked No. 26 in the NCAA’s annual football attendance report. Their home field, LaVell Edwards Stadium is one of the largest in college football. It has averaged 60,524 fans per game, making BYU the only non-BCS school ranked within the top 40. Their stadium is named for the man who brought an exciting pass-happy brand of football to the program. Edwards is a legend among college football coaches, sixth all-time in wins with two Coach of the Year awards and a National title on his resume. Since he brought an exciting air attack to Provo, the school earned two remarkable records: the only team from a non-BCS conference to win a national title (1984) and the NCAA record for most consecutive games without being shutout (361 games over a 28 year span).
Under Edwards’ leadership, the Cougars were Western Athletic/Mountain West Conference champions 20 times, had 26 winning seasons, played in 22 bowl games, and held a top-25 ranking for some portion of 22 different seasons, including 9 seasons with top-10 rankings. Current starting quarterback Max Hall graces the cover of the New York Times national college football preview. He continues on the rich tradition of star QBs that includes Hall of Famer Steve Young, Youngest ever Heisman trophy winner Ty Detmer, and a multitude of NFL signal callers including John Beck, Brandon Doman, John Walsh,Â Marc Wilson and the â€œPunky QBâ€ from the Super Bowl Shuffle Jim McMahon. Once again the air attack is thriving in Provo and they have run roughshod over their competition thus far in the season.
The University of Utah recently had the best season in school history. In 2004 the Utes went 12-0 to become the first school from a non-Bowl Championship Series conference to play in a BCS bowl game, the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, where they routed the University of Pittsburgh 35-7. The Utes finished the season ranked #4 in the AP poll. Appearing in a bowl game generates big payouts for a schoolâ€™s athletic department. In 2007, bowl bid payouts varied by game from $600,000 to $3 million. All BCS bowl bids possess a $17 million payout for each school.
Later in 2005, Alex Smith Utah’s quarterback, was drafted #1 by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft. He became the first player in the state of Utah to ever be drafted first. This culminated in the University of Utah becoming the first school in history to produce two #1 professional draft picks in the same year when Andrew Bogut became the #1 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Remember this fact the next time you sign up for one of thos bar trivia games. Since 2000, The Utah Utes have a 61-32 record. This included an 18-game winning streak and the Utes making three (all victorious) bowl game appearances.
Since former head coach Urban Meyer bolted, Kyle Whittingham has taken over and won three bowl games. The Utes show no sign of slowing down this season, another conference championship looks likey, and perhaps an even bigger prize is on the horizon.
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