PROVO — It was a typical BYU spring football game on Saturday: kickoffs without tackling and a hermetically sealed quarterback, both designed to keep injuries away. A sizable number of the star players sat out.
But there was something even more obviously missing than, say, linebacker Bronson Kaufusi or running back Jamaal Williams, and it had to do with scheduling.
As defensive back Drew Reilly noted, “We grew up watching the rivalry and that’s why a lot of us came to BYU — to be part of the rivalry. It’s really sad we don’t have it anymore.”
Which in a way took some of the fun out of the Cougars’ spring game.
Half the thrill of looking ahead is viewing your archrival coming over the hill.
The Cougars pulled everything off just as they should have on a sunny-then-overcast afternoon at Edward Stadium. Nobody got trucked off in an ambulance. The game had all the violence of a picnic. That’s a good thing. An estimated crowd of 6,500 showed up just to be there. They got what they came for: a reason to be in the house.
For them, there’s never an offseason. April through July are just timeouts.
Certainly next season has a dose of intrigue. Though they play a less ambitious schedule than last year, that doesn’t mean the Cougars have lowered expectations. BYU has been ranked No. 25 in a USA Today preseason poll. Central Florida, BYU’s Oct. 9 opponent, was rated No. 21.
In addition, there are dangerous games against Houston, Boise State, Utah State and a road game at Middle Tennessee.
Texas, a big loser to BYU in Provo last year, was rated No. 23 by Athlon Sports. A road game at Cal could even provide drama.
BYU opens the season in the longest road game imaginable — at Connecticut. It makes you wonder why the Cougars didn’t just get it over with and schedule Cambridge.
“We definitely have a chance to win them all,” Reilly said, “but they’re going to test our guts. We travel far. We’re not just going up the street to play Utah and Utah State.”
Actually, going up the street to play Utah would be a welcome addition. In case you hadn’t heard, for the first time since World War II, the Utes and Cougars are taking a break, for the next two seasons. The bad part is one of the country’s great rivalries is pausing, the byproduct of conference realignment. The good part is that maybe next fall there won’t be so much nonsense.
As tension built toward the 2013 game, the sideshows took over. Spencer Hadley’s suspension and a mock baptism video involving Utah players made the rivalry seem more personal than bitter than ever.
After the game, a few BYU fans pelted officials with debris.
Utah has its reasons for not playing BYU. With nine annual conference games, and upcoming games with Big Ten opponents, it has become increasingly hard for the Utes to fit in the Cougars. At the same time, they don’t necessarily want to. With nine potential losses, why schedule others? (They do play Fresno State this year, which might be as worrisome as the Cougars.)
Meanwhile, BYU will take any respectable opponent it can get.
All of which leaves a gaping hole in both teams’ schedules. For a series that started as early as 1896 (1922 in BYU’s record book), a two-year absence is downright strange.
“In previous years, I think it’s been the biggest motivation we’ve had, playing Utah and trying to beat our in-state rival,” said offensive lineman Ryker Mathews, who prepped at American Fork. “I’m just as bugged and weirded out as you are Utah not being on the schedule.”
Included in the crowd on Saturday was former Ute Trevor Reilly, there to watch brother Drew, who transferred from Colorado State.
“Honestly, that’s lot of the motivation we had, when we come in December, and come in in the spring, and every day we remind ourselves, ‘Hey, we’ve got to beat Utah.’ We don’t have it anymore,” BYU’s Reilly said. “We’re going to miss that.”
In fact, the more you look at the schedule, the more it resembles a spring game. There’s some good action, but also some places where key components have purposely been removed.
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