No. 19 Utah Utes-No. 15 BYU Cougars: The Holy War Preview

Tyler StimsonCorrespondent INovember 25, 2009

For fans of both BYU and Utah, this is the most important game of the year. While it won't decide the conference championship (that goes to TCU, after the Horned Frogs crush New Mexico this weekend), it will decide the best team in the state of Utah.

The game is only a few days away, and the anticipation is spine-tingling.

I cannot remember a year when these teams were more evenly matched.

Both teams are ranked in the Top 20, they come in with identical 9-2 records, and they both got blown out by conference rival TCU.

All signs point to this being yet another extremely close, extremely compelling matchup.

As far as bowl matchups go, there won't be too much at stake in this one. BYU and Utah will definitely play in the Las Vegas and Poinsettia Bowls (it's still unclear which school will go to which bowl), against very good Pac-10 teams.

Their probable opponents include: USC, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona, and Cal. These are all teams that have been in the Top 25 for much of the season, so it looks like BYU and Utah will both have their work cut out for them.

One rumor says that regardless of what happens on the field this Saturday, the Las Vegas Bowl (which has the first selection in the MWC) will select Utah, to avoid having BYU for the fifth straight year.

But, keep in mind that having BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl for the past four seasons has been very good economically for the bowl; it has chosen BYU four straight years for a reason.

In last year's Holy War game, Max Hall did his best Rex Grossman/Jay Cutler/Bears QB impersonation and cost BYU the game with a series of key fourth quarter turnovers, and Utah ended up winning in a rout. But that was an aberration.

In each of the three years prior to that, the game came down to the final seconds.

This has been a heated and intense rivalry. As far as this decade goes, this has quite possibly been the most compelling and hotly contested rivalry in the country.

Max Hall's legacy is on the line in this one. If he wins this game, I think he goes down as one of the greatest QBs in BYU's illustrious history—his name will be mentioned in the same sentence as Steve Young, Jim McMahon, and Ty Detmer. Last week, he surpassed Ty Detmer as the winningest BYU QB of all time.

If he does win on Saturday, he will be remembered for his heroic play against Utah, going 2-1 against the hated Utes.

If he wins in dramatic fashion, it will have an especially big impact on his legacy. BYU fans will think of Max Hall, and instantly think of his winning record against Utah, and his dramatic and clutch performance against Oklahoma in the fourth quarter earlier this year.

But, if he loses this game, he will be remembered primarily for his losses to Utah and TCU in his senior and junior seasons; the fact that he beat both of them and won a conference championship his sophomore season will be an old memory.

He will primarily be remembered as a good quarterback who just could not come through consistently in the big games.

But, what will happen Saturday?

Will BYU, who is a seven-point favorite, take back the Beehive Boot, and bragging rights in the state of Utah, taking three out of the last four?

Or will Utah hold on to the BeehiveBboot and answer one BYU two-year winning streak with one of its own?

BYU has struggled mightily this year with two of the three most athletic teams on its schedule. The Cougars got crushed at home by Florida State and TCU, but won against a very athletic Oklahoma team.

Aside from the TCU game, Utah has played up and down to its opponents this year. The Utes kept it extremely close at Oregon, giving the Ducks their most competitive game at Eugene this year. But they have let teams like Wyoming, San Jose State, and Colorado State hang around and almost pull off the upset.

Honestly, after the last few years, I will not be shocked by any result this Saturday.

I could see a Utah blowout. BYU has already been blown out twice at home so far this year.

I could see a BYU blowout. BYU played as well as it has played all season last week, giving Air Force its worst loss of the season after jumping out to a 24-0 lead in the first half.

And, I could definitely see a close game that will go either way—that is definitely the likeliest scenario.

So, as a BYU fan, shouldn't I just hedge my bets, and pick Utah to win? That way I win either way. Either my team wins, or I picked the game right.

It is tempting, but I'm gonna have to go with my head, my heart, and the Las Vegas Sporting Consultants.

Keep in mind that last week I pegged the score exactly; through sheer dumb luck I guessed BYU would win 38-21.

I think it will be a close, hard-fought, and dramatic win for BYU by one touchdown, 31-24.