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Hiatus in the Holy War Part of Utah and Brigham Young Moving into New Eras

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 15: Riley Stephenson #99 of  the BYU Cougars kicks a last second filed goal that hit the upright and missed against the University of Utah Utes during the second half of an college football game September 15, 2012 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah beat BYU 24-21. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
George Frey/Getty Images
Kyle KensingContributor IJune 15, 2016

Saturday's 95th engagement of the Holy War pitting the University of Utah against Brigham Young University is the last until 2016.

These two fierce, in-state rivals last took a hiatus from their annual series in 1945. Barring the necessary stoppage of World War II, the current incarnation of a series that began the same year Utah was granted statehood has been played every year since 1922. 

Proximity and familiarity have bred a particular level of competitiveness between these programs. 

"You certainly have no problem getting your players up for this game," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said on his teleconference call Tuesday. "The emotion and passion and all that takes care of itself."

While future engagements of the rivalry are planned, nothing is guaranteed beyond an agreement for dates in 2017 and 2018, finalized Monday and announced via the BYUCougars website. Many players on both rosters this Saturday will be gone when the series renews in 2016. 

"It doesn’t put any more emphasis on the game," Whittingham said. "[Saturday's game] isn’t any more important this year than the year before, or the year before."

Still, the layoff means Saturday is their last opportunity to claim bragging rights, a feat Utah has accomplished each of the last three years. Taysom Hill, Cody Hoffman and Kyle Van Noy want to snap the skid and go out winners. Trevor Reilly and Co. want to end the current run of the series with the ultimate boast of four straight victories. 

These are two quality teams. They are also programs growing apart.

For the Utes, the future is rested in the Pac-12. The Utes are in their third season in the conference and are still playing catch-up with their new counterparts.

Before the program embarked on its first season as a power conference member in 2011, Bryan Fischer of CBS Sports quoted Whittingham as saying: "I just think rosters in the Pac-12 from top to bottom are deeper. They're a little faster, a little bigger, a little stronger." 

That's a harsh reality relegating Utah to a 13-12 record over the last two years, a stark contrast from the program's 57-20 mark in six full seasons under Whittingham as members of the Mountain West Conference. 

"We've closed the gap," Whittingham said Tuesday. "We feel that we’re a much better football team right now than we’ve been the last couple years." 

"We’ll see how that translates," he added. "The league itself is a lot better than it was a couple years ago."

The continued improvement of the conference and reaching that same pace must be Utah's No. 1 priority. An unfortunate casualty in that process is a guaranteed Holy War. 

However, BYU finds itself in a similar territory as an independent as its rival in the Pac-12. Utah is one of seven BCS conference opponents on the schedule that is the Cougars' strongest in three years since leaving the MWC. 

The Cougars are forging new partnerships with prominent programs like Notre Dame and Texas. The latter maintains a spark of the rumored interest from the Big 12

Rather than lament the hiatus and the rivalry's uncertain future beyond 2018, it could be celebrated as a sign of each program's growth. 

 

Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.

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