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BYU football's program-defining possibility this weekend at Utah State

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Rivalries have a way of delineating the status of a program.

Utah State v BYU Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

This weekend’s clash with the Utah State Aggies is immensely important, and not only because the fate of the Old Wagon Wheel is at stake — it could change the narrative of the BYU football program.

Frequently, fans, media and college football coaches refer to certain outcomes on the football field as “program-defining.” Usually this claim is improperly used and almost exclusively in relation to wins. It does make for a nice post-game cliché to try to attach meaning to the previous victory. It’s a good sound bite and talking point.

For example, following the overtime victory to Tennessee, it was argued that it was a program changing win. It wasn’t. Because the next week, BYU defeated USC and it was another program changing win. The real one. Except it wasn’t either.

A month later, BYU fans were cancelling their ESPN+ subscriptions after losing to the 5th place team in the MAC West Division. A week later BYU lost to the 3rd place team in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division. Maybe losing two on the road to mid-to-low tier Group of 5 teams set the new definition for the BYU football program. Still no.

The actual program defining result for BYU football is found in its 9-game losing streak to the University of Utah. That’s the one. It’s the monkey on the back of the BYU football team. It has been the Cougar bugaboo since BYU lost 24-21 in 2013, the 3rd consecutive loss to the Utes — the game it became a trend.

For the last 6 years, as BYU has been unable to beat Utah on the football field. It has signified that the Cougars have been the 2nd best program in the state. That — unfortunately — is an unavoidable definition that the Cougars have earned due to their results on the field.

This weekend, that program definition changes for the worse if the Y suffers another loss to Utah State.

The Cougars have lost the last two games against the Aggies.

In 2017, the scoreboard read 40-24 as the Aggies won in Logan. You’ll remember this game as the one where Beau Hoge led BYU to a 21-7 lead in the 2nd quarter. BYU was cruising. Then, Hoge was injured. Koy Detmer Jr. came in and threw 7-for-20 totaling 91 yards and 3 interceptions — two were returned by Jalen Davis for an Aggie TD. Utah State surged, outscoring the Y 33-3 following the injury to Hoge.

In 2018, the Aggies dominated their way to a 45-20 win in LaVell’s house. This game wasn’t close. The scoring was started when BYU’s Tanner Mangum threw a pick 6 on a FB screen. Utah State QB Jordan Love had a star-making performance with his 4 TDs passes and ran one in himself. The Aggies opened up a 35-7 lead deep into the 3rd quarter. The 4th quarter saw Zach Wilson enter as the Y QB and pick up a garbage time TD pass.

One of those losses can be explained by a down year and an injury at quarterback.

The other loss perhaps was a blip or an off night. However, the Cougars were totally outclassed by the Aggies. That may happen occasionally.

If BYU were to lose to Utah State for the 3rd straight game, it would be a trend. A signal. A new program definition.

Should Utah State win for a 3rd straight time, the Aggies would’ve won not because they had the better night, not because they had a better team on the year, but because they have a better program.

It would mean that BYU has the 3rd best college football program in Utah.

Something that hasn’t happened since 1963.

A first for any Cougar fan under 56 years old.

The BYU Athletic Director, its coaches, and fans would be haunted by an updated version of the dreaded question hanging over BYU’s football team.

Why can’t we beat Utah? or Utah State?

Let’s hope that amendment can be avoided with the Cougars celebrating around the Old Wagon Wheel as Aggie fans seek solace by cleaning the sink at Angie’s. Otherwise, it is going to take a whole lot more than a bunch of ice cream for BYU to recover.