Two years in a row, Utah and Utah State have played close games in the early season. Last year the Aggies took a 27-20 win, while this week the Utes came back to win 30-26.
If Matt Wells remains as USU’s coach, and doesn’t take a bigger job, this series could be a fine one – which hasn’t necessarily been the case for the last three decades.
Even so, it’s doubtful they’ll play every year.
The big hint was this week when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, “Ideally I’d like the first game of the year to be I-AA opponents.” He added, “If I had a choice, yeah, it would be I-AA.”
Whittingham might be a bit outdated – I-AA is now FCS – but he got the gist. He wants to play Weber, Idaho State, Southern Utah or Eastern Washington on opening night.
There are 12 regular season games a year. Nine are mandated by the Pac-12. If one is an FCS school, will the two remaining games always be against BYU and Utah State?
That would leave no room for games such as Utah vs. Michigan — which is set for next year. The Pac-12 and Big Ten have tempered a plan to have each of their teams annually play someone from the other conference. But they are still encouraging crossover on a regular basis.
In that case, it would almost certainly mean playing USU and BYU every year isn’t going to happen.
The Utes could play USU and BYU annually if they really wanted. Or at least if all three schools really wanted. It might take some give-and-take regarding home-and-home.
Regardless, Whittingham doesn’t seem to want 12 games that he could lose. With a two-year break in the rivalry with BYU following this season, Utah will then pick it up again in 2016-2018.
Which leads me to believe that Utah will play Utah State some years, but not every year. The 12th-oldest rivalry in the country will continue — with some interruptions. There’s also the possibility that USU won’t want to play Utah and BYU in the same year, if the Mountain West schedule turns out to be extremely tough for the Aggies.
The Utes could slate nine Pac-12 games, one each against BYU and USU and still get a Big Ten opponent. But that would mean an annual FCS opponent would have to go by the wayside.
As an observer, that’s great with me.
As a coach, I can see why Whittingham has reservations.