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8 is enough: BYU fans eager to see losing streak to Utah end

For BYU fans, it’s a mantra — or a rallying cry, or a painful admission — that has been hanging over them since the Cougars squandered a 27-7 lead late in the third quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium last November and watched Utah rally for a 35-27 victory.

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake reacts from the sidelines as BYU and Utah play at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — For BYU fans, it’s a mantra — or a rallying cry, or a painful admission — that has been hanging over them since the Cougars squandered a 27-7 lead late in the third quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium last November and watched Utah rally for a 35-27 victory.

Eight is enough.

As in eight straight gut-wrenching losses to the archrivals.

Amazingly, BYU hasn’t beaten the Utes in nearly a decade — when the Cougars earned a 26-23 overtime win at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Nov. 28, 2009. BYU will attempt to end that streak Aug. 29 in the season opener at Edwards Stadium.

The Deseret News asked die-hard BYU fans a handful of questions via social media about their views of the rivalry. Some responses have been edited for clarity or length.

To what do you attribute the current lopsided state of the rivalry?

“Let’s not forget that a couple of those games were decided by very controversial calls,” wrote James Poll. “But mostly it was (Utah) coaching and a better overall program. I think that’s changing — BYU is improving significantly as a program but not sure if we can keep pace with (Power Five) funding for long. And let’s be real. The Pac-12 allowed itself to exclude BYU on socio-religious grounds, which stymied BYU as it charted into independence and Utah into Power Five prosperity.”

“I love the fact that the Cougars are independent and although I know having the big games up front can take its toll, I don’t think it’s the Cougars’ schedule that has been the issue,” wrote Christopher J. Heiner. “I think it’s the University of Utah’s schedule that has given the Utes an advantage. While BYU has played tough opponents right out of the gates, Utah has traditionally played smaller teams in the first few weeks leading up to the rivalry game. I think that when the game is at the beginning of the season, or at the end of the season, both teams are much more evenly matched and I think BYU has a much better chance at beating Utah.”

Jacqueline Harris wrote: “A) I think BYU’s high academic acceptance requirements make it difficult for players who do not perform as high in academics as they do in sports to gain acceptance to gain acceptance to BYU. So we miss out on some great players who would like to attend BYU but can’t get accepted. B) The Honor Code. I read when Bronco (Mendenhall) was the coach he didn’t recruit as other universities because he believed BYU sold itself. With how today’s players are wooed and catered too, I wondered if players went elsewhere during Bronco’s time. It seems like (Kalani) Sitake’s staff is making a much bigger effort in recruiting.”

“(The Utes) have upgraded their program with the move to the Pac-12,” wrote Dennis Ray Dunn. “Better recruiting opportunities with the upgrade from (Mountain West Conference) to Pac-12.”

“The Utes have been winning lately due to them somehow getting invited to the (Pac-12). They have been attracting better players than they used to recruit,” wrote Martin Smith. “Coach (Kyle) Whittingham has done a good job of getting his players psyched up to play BYU, while BYU, at least outwardly, has treated it like just another game. BYU has also had moments of bad luck, bad execution and bad calls.”

What’s been the toughest part for you personally about the streak?

The worst part of the long BYU losing streak is having Utah fans remind me almost every day, working and living in the (Salt Lake City) area,” wrote Smith. “Everywhere I go are cars with Ute stickers and banners and people wearing Utah shirts, more now than ever since they are in the Pac-12 and are expecting to have one of their best teams ever. The local media is almost as bad as the fans. I can almost understand how the Utah fans felt in the ‘80s, when Utah only won once in a blue moon and suffered through eight- or nine-game losing streaks themselves.”

The toughest part personally is losing so many years in a row and having so many Ute fans be so nasty and mean about it. It’s a sport,” Harris wrote. “Rivalries should be intense but they should also be fun for fans. Sportsmanship is something that seems to be missing with a lot of sports today. Maybe I’m biased because I’m a Cougar fan, but I see Ute fans being more obnoxious and rude in these down football years for BYU.”

“The hardest part has been listening to Utah fans on social media,” Heiner wrote. “It’s also been difficult hearing local sports radio refer to Utah as the premier team of the state, and BYU as almost second- (or in some cases third-) rate.”

“The worst part? All of it!!!” wrote Scott Schulte. “Last year was the worst. Losing was like getting a root canal without Novocain.”

Does the rivalry game mean less, more or the same during BYU’s independence era?

“Personally, I think it matters more. Not because one team needs it more than the other or that it has major implications for either team,” Heiner wrote. “However, it is the only thing that links these two programs together and acts as a true measuring stick to see how they compete with each other. I think it matters more to the fans. For Utah fans, they have to win to prove that their school really is better, and that the Pac-12 is a nationally relevant conference. To BYU fans, it matters to prove that independence has made BYU equal to the P5 schools and that BYU will not only go toe-to-toe (with) the major players of college football, but that BYU can win at the highest levels and dominate the state.”

“Independence has nothing to do with the rivalry. It’s just as big,” Harris wrote. “I don’t like how Ute fans always brag about being in the (Pac-12). BYU was excluded from the Pac-12 because of their rule of no Sunday games, not because Utah was better than them at the time.”

“It matters more to me,” Dunn wrote. “It is a reflection of where they have gone and where we have been as well.”

How optimistic are you that BYU will end the streak on Aug. 29?

“Not really optimistic, but hopeful. Too many years of getting my hopes up to have them ruined to be optimistic,” Harris wrote. “But I do feel with (quarterback Zach) Wilson, the graduate transfer running backs, a strong (offensive) line ... that we are in a good position to win this year. I think it will come down to how well the defense plays, especially the corners and safeties.”

“I am wicked optimistic about this year’s game,” Schulte wrote. “If someone isn’t then they’ve already lost. Chuck the ball, Mr. Wilson! We will win!”

“I’m extremely optimistic. BYU has the best offense in the state and I would even argue they’ll have the best defense in the state this year,” Heiner wrote. “The game is in Provo and the players and coaches are excited, prepared and focused for the game this year. Not to mention it’s the first time in a very long time that both teams will be healthy when they face each other. I think experience, excitement and home-field advantage will all pay off in a big BYU win this year.”

“I am not certain if BYU will win this next game, especially with it being the first game of the season, but I expect that it should happen within the next two or three seasons,” Smith wrote. “Hopefully, sooner than later. I’m not sure how many more losses I can handle!”