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With BYU Big 12 bound, will another great in-state rivalry bite the dust?

BYU and Utah State have waged many a lively battle on the gridiron over the years — especially recently. But are future matchups in doubt with the Cougars jumping to a Power Five league?

BYU’s Jamaal Williams, center, fights for yardage as Utah State’s McKade Brady attempts to bring him down Oct. 5, 2012.
BYU’s Jamaal Williams, center, fights for yardage as Utah State’s McKade Brady attempts to bring him down Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that many of college football’s biggest rivalries have been kicked to the curb with conference realignment in the past decade or so. As BYU and Utah State prepare to meet in Logan Friday night, you have to wonder if this rivalry will suffer the same fate.

How often will we see this traditional matchup in the future?

BYU is moving to the Big 12 in time for the 2023-24 school year. That is bound to affect the series with USU. BYU has been on the other end of this situation. After joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah decided not to play BYU regularly, disrupting a rivalry that had been interrupted only by World War II. Utah didn’t schedule BYU in 2014 and 2015 and won’t play the Cougars again in 2022 and 2023 (just when things are getting interesting, with the Cougars ending the Utes’ nine-game win streak this season).

Friday night’s BYU-Utah State game will mark the 90th meeting those schools have had on a football field. They played annually from 1922 through 1994 (except for three years during World War II) and then the series was played only seven times during the next 13 years; it has been played annually since 2008.

The game has been a tradition for a century, and starting in 1981 it has become associated with the week that the Church of Jesus Christ holds its semiannual worldwide general conference in Salt Lake City. The game is played on Friday night, presumably to clear the weekend so church members can watch or attend the conference (this is one conference that has not been realigned).

Interest in the rivalry waned some when the Cougars dominated the series for two decades, winning 20 of 21 games, but the Aggies have won four of the last 10 and made this a much-watch game for fans again.

This year’s matchup lost some of its shine when previously unbeaten USU lost to Boise State last week, but it still figures to be competitive. BYU is 4-0 and ranked No. 13 in the country but hasn’t looked especially convincing.

BYU and USU are scheduled to play through the 2026 season, but you wonder if that will change or if games beyond that will be scheduled after the Cougars officially begin Big 12 play in the fall of 2023. Many rivalries have been cast aside by schools playing musical chairs with the various conferences, which is a shame.

There’s something to like about teams playing their neighbors — natural rivals — and cultivating traditions. That has been abandoned as college football has become big businesses in search of dollars, which means playing far-flung schools.

Here are just a few of the rivalries that have suffered:

Notre Dame-Michigan: Once a great rivalry that fans everywhere anticipated, the game stopped being an annual event in 2014. They did play again in 2018 and 2019, but they have not scheduled another meeting.

Oklahoma-Nebraska: There’s already a generation of football fans that doesn’t even know that was a great rivalry game, one the entire country tuned in to. It was discontinued in 2010 after conference shakeups, but resumed this season after a 10-year interruption. They will play again next season, but who knows the fate of the series now that Oklahoma is headed to the SEC.

Texas-Texas A&M: They played annually from 1915 to 2011 — almost 100 years — until A&M joined the SEC. They haven’t played since.

Colorado-Nebraska: They met annually until 2010, when Colorado joined the Pac-12 and Nebraska the Big Ten. They dropped the series for seven years until meeting again in 2018 and 2019. They won’t meet again until 2023 and 2024.

Missouri-Kansas: They played 120 times until Missouri joined the SEC in 2011, the second most of any series in the nation at the time. They haven’t played since then. They are scheduled to play in 2025 and 2026 and again in 2031 and 2032, but it probably will never be an annual event again.

Texas-Arkansas: This was once a huge game, often with national implications, but it hasn’t been played regularly since Arkansas moved to the SEC in 1991. Now that Texas is set to join the SEC, they’ll resume their rivalry.

You can add the Utah-BYU rivalry to the list, as well. And perhaps the USU-BYU rivalry in the near future.