ESPN.com is running a feature called “House of Pain,” listing the 50 most painful defeats in college football history.
None of the Utah schools made the list, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have some brutal defeats. (Clearly, ESPN hasn’t been paying attention to the Ute-Cougar series in the last 15 years.)
Among the daggers-to-the-heart: Ryan Keneshiro’s missed field goal against BYU in 1998; John Beck’s pass to Jonny Harline in 2006; the back-to-back 34-31 BYU losses to Utah; Brett Ratliff’s surprise execution of a 2005 overtime win for the Utes in Provo, etc.
Painful games for one team or the other.
Oddly enough, my nominations for most painful losses for both Utah and BYU didn’t involve one another.
I’m picking BYU’s 72-45 loss to Hawaii in 2001 as its most painful defeat ever. The Cougars were 12-0 that year, ranked 7th nationally. They came into Honolulu on a 14-game win streak. Gary Crowton was being hailed in his first season as a brilliant hire.
And they got obliterated.
The losses to Utah may be more emotional, but none more devastating than that 2001 game. It set the table for a 28-10 loss to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl and a brilliant season came quickly down to earth.
As for the Utes, you can’t ignore all the aforementioned gut-wrenching losses to BYU. But in my book, Utah’s 1994 loss to New Mexico (23-21) is the most devastating. Utah had built an 8-0 record under coach Ron McBride. His team was playing fantastically, including a win in Eugene against Oregon. The Utes had climbed to No. 8 in the national polls, only to fall in Albuquerque. Next week they lost at Air Force by a touchdown, and there went the great season.
Utah did recover to beat BYU and then Arizona in the Freedom Bowl, but the loss to the Lobos derailed what could have been an undefeated season.
As for Utah State, I figure the most painful loss ever for the Aggies was getting frozen out by Utah and BYU when it tried to get in the WAC in the early 1960s, and again through the years whenever the issue came up. (At least that’s the way Aggie fans tell the story.)
USU finally got in the WAC, but not until after Utah and BYU had left for the Mountain West Conference.
It’s a defeat from which USU still hasn’t recovered.