by Daniel Olsen | In the early years, Brigham Young Academy wasn’t known for their football prowess. Prior to Lavell Edwards, the Aggies held a 27-17-3 advantage over the Cougars. Ironically an Aggie in Edwards was the person that put BYU on the map. Edwards played football at Utah State from 1949-1951. There are several reasons why USU Football was left behind as far as in-state rivalries go. We will go over a few.
1. Conference realignment left the Aggies high and dry:
This happened multiple times. At a time, the three current FBS schools were members of the same RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) from 1918-1938. After that, they all moved to the Skyline Conference until 1962. After that, conference realignment would split USU Football from the other in-state schools for good. The Aggies would become Independent for 15 years at ultimately the Big West conference while the Utes and Cougars would join the WAC and then the Mountain West.
Even though the Utes and Cougars no longer play in the same conference, they are still the featured in-state rivalry most years. The Aggies wanted to join the WAC, but were denied several times for different reasons according to the Deseret News. Eventually they joined the WAC and Mountain West but only after the Cougars and Utes left for greener pastures.
2. The Holy War surpassed the Battle of the Brothers and Old Wagon Wheel rivalry
The Aggies used to beat up on BYU and the Utes beat up on both of them. The Battle of the Brothers (Utah State and Utah) was the featured in-State game and was often played on Thanksgiving day. Once the tides turned, Coach Edwards and the Cougars dominated the state for the better part of the last three decades of the millennium. Edwards did so well that the stadium was named after him.
The tides then turned back to the favor of the Utes as they became the original BCS Buster with wins over Pittsburgh (Fiesta Bowl) and Alabama (Sugar Bowl). This led to their eventual exit to the PAC-12 and the Cougars to Independence. They continued to play the rivalry game most years while the Utes have not renewed the rivalry with the Aggies since their last meeting in 2015. USU wants to be treated on the same level but the Utes at this point would only be willing to play if there was an agreement to a 2 for 1 deal. The last time they had such a deal, they lost to the Aggies in Logan before winning both games in Salt Lake City. BYU does play the Aggies as often as possible and hold a 49-37-3 advantage over the Aggies.
The kids on the playground in Utah either wear bright red or royal blue on game day. Outside Logan, it’s hard to find fans who appreciate the Aggie blue unless their family somehow has ties to the school. The Holy War between these church and state schools is the main ticket.
3. The national prominence of BYU and Utah
USU actually had the most national prominence of anyone in the 60s which is why it’s so puzzling they were left out when new conferences were formed. They were like the kid that does all the work on the class project but then the slackers took all the credit.
Because of this, the Holy War became the featured in-state rivalry and is often featured during primetime on an ESPN network. There have been 19 matchups in which at least BYU or Utah has been ranked. 2009 was the last time both schools were ranked which is the last time BYU beat Utah. This year might have been a different story had the game not been cancelled. It depends on whether BYU could have stopped Ty Jordan in the run game.
In contrast, when BYU and Utah State play for the Old Wagon Wheel, the Cougars are the only team that has been ranked in these games. USU is capable of winning these games but they won’t get much credit until they start getting consistently ranked. This last decade was great for them as they finished the year ranked in 2012 and 2018.
How USU can be relevant again:
While it would be nice to un-thaw the frozen statue of Merlin Olsen on this cold December day, this isn’t Star Wars. USU needs to win and find a way to retain their coaches a little longer. They made the new coach Blake Anderson the first million-dollar man for the Aggies. He will have to prove his worth with a program that has once again taken two steps back after taking a step forward. Basketball is in a great spot as they traditionally have been for the school. If football wants to keep up, everyone has to buy in. The school likely lost a lot of money due to the pandemic so fans will need to try to donate a little more to help out.
If the Aggies can somehow find a way to join a better conference (or at least be a perennial powerhouse in the Mountain West), and revive the in-state rivalries, they can once again bring the Aggies back to the glory days.
Featured image courtesy Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News