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Why the BYU-Boise State football series should continue after the Cougars join the Big 12

The regional rivalry has been beneficial for both schools

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2020, is back for more in 2021.
BYU Cougars running back Tyler Allgeier (25) looks back to see if he is in the clear as he runs for an 86-yard touchdown as BYU and Boise State play at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

For nearly a decade now, the BYU-Boise State football rivalry has been a yearly tradition.

The two schools have met every season since 2012, and that will continue Saturday when the No. 10 Cougars host the Broncos at 1:30 p.m. MDT at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The two are scheduled to play every season through 2034, excluding 2024, under an extended contract, though there are questions about whether that will continue now that BYU has accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference beginning in 2023.

There’s a possibility the series could go away when BYU joins the Big 12, or that it could survive in some form. Whether that means finding a way to get Boise State on the schedule most every year — what if the Broncos join the Big 12, too? (more on that later) — or rotating between rivalry games with Utah, Utah State and Boise State, BYU has a variety of ways to keep familiar opponents in its nonconference schedule once it joins the Big 12 in 2023.

There are several compelling reasons, though, for the BYU-Boise State rivalry to continue.

Attendance numbers are strong

Playing each other has brought an attendance boost for both schools, even if the attendance has fallen slightly in the past few meetings from how it looked nearly a decade ago.

BYU was the opponent for two of the top four crowds ever at a game at Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium — in 2012 (36,864 fans, No. 2 in school history) and 2014 (36,752, No. 4). In the four BYU-Boise State games played in Boise since 2012 — excluding the 2020 season when attendance was impacted greatly by the pandemic — the average attendance was 35,858 at the 36,287 capacity stadium.

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Mitchell Juergens (87) makes a catch in the end zone for the go ahead score as BYU and Boise State play Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Mitchell Juergens (87) makes a catch in the end zone for the go ahead score as BYU and Boise State play Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

During a decade when BYU saw its average home attendance dip a bit — including a low of 52,476 during the 2018 season — the four BYU-Boise State games since 2012 have stayed strong, averaging 61,276 fans at the 63,725 capacity LaVell Edwards Stadium. The 2015 game between the two schools had 63,470 in attendance, the highest of the season for BYU that year.

While BYU-Boise State games haven’t drawn as much of a crowd as when a Power Five opponent plays at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the attendance figures are not far behind those games when the Cougars have faced a P5 opponent the same year they hosted the Broncos. For example, the 2013 BYU-Boise State game drew 62,954 fans, trailing only two games in Provo that year — 63,197 against Texas and 63,470 against Utah.

It’s a competitive series

If BYU wins Saturday, the Cougars would tie the series at five victories apiece since the two teams began playing each other every year back in 2012. Overall, the Broncos own a 7-4 advantage in the series, thanks to winning the first two games in the series in 2003 and 2004. Still, it’s been a competitive, healthy series throughout.

There have been convincing wins on both sides — Boise State has scored over 50 points in the series twice (beating BYU 50-12 in 2003 and 55-30 in 2014), while the Cougars won their first game in Boise last year, trumping the Broncos 51-17.

There’s also been tight victories with thrilling finishes — five of the 11 games have been decided by a score or less, with Boise State winning four of those single-score games.

The Broncos have beaten the Cougars by a single point three different times in Boise. Twice, Boise State beat a Taysom Hill BYU team by a single point, including in 2012 when Hill, then a freshman, led a late touchdown drive but couldn’t convert a two-point conversion for the win.

A pass falls incomplete as BYU tries a two point conversion against Boise State during NCAA football in Boise, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.
A pass falls incomplete as BYU tries a two-point conversion against Boise State during NCAA football in Boise, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

BYU, though, has had its close-game moments. In 2015, the Cougars rallied for a 35-24 win after trailing by three going into the final minute — they scored on a fourth-down 35-yard pass, then again on a pick-six 15 seconds later for the 11-point win. In 2019, a BYU team led by backup quarterback Baylor Romney went up 28-10 in the third quarter on a ranked Boise State squad before holding on for a 28-25 win.

Both teams are nationally relevant

Despite a 2-3 record this year, Boise State has routinely been in the college football spotlight over the past 20 years as it’s built itself into one of the top Group of Five programs in the country. BYU’s rich history dates further back to the LaVell Edwards days, and while it hasn’t been as relevant in the past decade, the Cougar program is currently on an upswing.

Since 2008, the Broncos have been ranked in the final Associated Press poll of the season nine times. Boise State has also played in one of the nation’s most prestigious bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, three times since 2006, and won it every time, most recently in 2014.

After a successful run in the 2000s, BYU saw its national profile slip some during the 2010s, but that has picked up in the past couple of seasons. The Cougars finished the pandemic-altered 2020 season 11-1 and ranked No. 11 in the final AP poll. This year, they are 5-0 as the season nears its midway point and ranked No. 10 in the country.

It means something to both sides

The 2020 matchup between BYU and Boise State should serve as an example of how much the two teams appreciate the opportunity to play each other. Last year’s season was greatly impacted by the pandemic, and many FBS conferences went with a league-only schedule.

Despite this, BYU, Boise State and the Mountain West found a way to make the nonconference matchup happen, and it served as a high-profile game for both schools.

BYU wide receiver Neil Pau’u (2) makes a catch for a two-point conversion with Boise State Broncos safety Tyreque Jones (21) defending as BYU and Boise State play a college football game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.
BYU wide receiver Neil Pau’u (2) makes a catch for a two-point conversion with Boise State Broncos safety Tyreque Jones (21) defending as BYU and Boise State play a college football game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Earlier this week, BYU coach Kalani Sitake praised Boise State for the organization it has built.

“I really have appreciated the consistency of playing Boise every year,” Sitake told reporters, “and I appreciate their fanbase and their program, just the way they do things. I think it is a first-class organization, from the university to the athletics department to the football team. I respect them a bunch and we are looking forward to this matchup.”

First-year Boise State coach Andy Avalos stressed the impact the series has had in the region.

“It is always a tough-fought game, a very physical game,” he said. “I think it is a game that both fanbases look forward to every year. It is an unbelievable regional rivalry game that hopefully as the years go on we can continue the opportunity.”

What does the BYU-Boise State contract look like?

There’s been no updates on the series from either school since last month’s announcement that BYU would be among four schools — along with the American Athletic Conference’s Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — joining the Big 12 in the near future.

Here’s what we know about the Cougars’ contracted agreement with Boise State:

  • Back in 2019, BYU and Boise State extended their series to add 10 more games to their previous contract, with 2024 being the lone year they wouldn’t play each other between now and 2034.
  • Both schools would alternate hosting the games beginning in 2025, with Boise State on odd number years and BYU on even number years.
  • According to B.J. Rains of the Idaho Press, who obtained a copy of that BYU-Boise State agreement, there is language written into the contract that if one of the programs were to join a new conference, it could void the scheduling agreement without a penalty.

Could this contract agreement continue on as BYU, which currently plays as an independent, heads back into a conference in 2023? When that happens, the Cougars — starting with athletic director Tom Holmoe — will have to make decisions about which scheduling agreements to keep and which to cancel, with the Cougars only having three to four nonconference games per year.

Perhaps an amended contract between the two schools could work where the number of games is reduced, while still holding on to a scheduling agreement. That could help in cases like the 2029 season in which Boise State already has all four of its nonconference games scheduled — including games at Washington and Cincinnati — while BYU has three games currently scheduled that same year, including contests against Power Five programs Stanford and Ole Miss.

Could BYU-Boise State become a conference game?

On the same day that the Big 12 announced BYU and the three AAC schools would be joining the Power Five conference, there was a glimmer of hope for Boise State in its pursuit of also joining a P5 league.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported then that the Big 12 may consider a second round of expansion, with Boise State and Memphis the leading candidates. Dodd said any further expansion would likely come after 2024.

A week ago, Boise State and San Diego State reportedly informed the Mountain West of their desire to stay in the conference amid reports that multiple MWC teams could possibly leave for fellow Group of Five conference AAC. As it turns out, no MWC team is reportedly leaving the conference as of now.

CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander reported that Boise State is hoping for an invitation from a Power Five conference, most likely the Big 12.

“Next move has to be the big move,” a source told Norlander regarding Boise State.

The potential addition fn Boise State as a fellow Big 12 member, of course, would change that BYU-BSU series discussion completely and keep a regional rivalry intact.