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The Utah-BYU Football Rivalry

A History of Utah's "Holy War"


The Utah-BYU Football Rivalry
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The BYU-Utah rivalry has all the elements of a classic college football rivalry, but with a twist. The two teams have played each other every year for 100 years, give or take (it depends on whether you count the games between the University of Utah and Brigham Young Academy). They're in-state rivals only 50 miles apart. Both schools are huge with passionate fan bases. For the past decade at least, both schools have had extremely strong football programs, and frequently the conference championship has been decided by the rivalry game.

And then there's religion. Even though BYU has some non-Mormon fans and the Utes have even more Mormon fans, the rivalry taps into deeply-rooted divisions in Utah's culture and has come to be known at Utah's "Holy War."

The Early Years: Utah Domination

The University of Utah played Brigham Young Academy in football six times between 1896 and 1899, with Utah winning five, and possibly six, of those meetings (records are sketchy). However, the rivalry between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University officially began in 1922, and the two teams have played annually ever since, with the exceptions of 1943, '44 and '45. Utah won 40 of the first 42 games. The rivalry heated up in the 1960s when BYU managed to win three games in a row, in 1965, '66 and '67 led by future NFL quarterback Virgil Carter.

The Edwards Dynasty

In 1972, BYU brought on its most beloved and successful coach, LaVell Edwards, who built the team into a national power with an amazingly productive offense and a string of NFL-worthy quarterbacks. Edwards' tenure included an undefeated national championship season in 1984 and a Heisman trophy for BYU quarterback Ty Detmer. BYU won 22 of the 29 rivalry games from 1972 to 2000, while Edwards was head coach. In 2000, Edwards' last game ended in a memorable last-second, come-from-behind victory for BYU. Utah defeated BYU in 1978 and 1988, with the '88 victory being a memorable 57-28 blowout in Salt Lake City orchestrated by future NFL quarterback Scott Mitchell, and again in '93, '94, '95, '97 and '99 under Ron McBride.


The Utes' football program improved significantly under head coach Ron McBride beginning in 1992. McBride's best season was 1994, when the Utes finished 10-2 and were ranked 10th in the nation. The Utes have had two undefeated seasons, one in 2004 under head coach Urban Meyer in which the Utes won the Fiesta Bowl and finished ranked #4, and one in 2008 under head coach Kyle Whittingham in which the Utes won the Sugar Bowl and finished ranked #2. The Utes have finished in the top 25 in national polls five times since 2001.

BYU, meanwhile, has continued to have a strong program, like Utah finishing in the top 25 of the national rankings five times since 2001.

Since Edwards' departure from BYU in 2000, the Utes have won seven rivalry games, while BYU has won four. The rivalry is hotter than ever, with quality teams on both sides.

2011: Big Changes

In the summer of 2010 both Utah and BYU decided to leave the Mountain West Conference, with Utah becoming part of the Pac-12 Conference and BYU becoming an independent team. The 2011, 2012 and 2013 non-conference rivalry games will be held in mid-September, instead of during the traditional November rivalry week. The two teams will not meet in 2014 or 2015, marking the first non-war interruption to the rivalry in more than a century. The teams will play again in 2016, and after that the future is uncertain.

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