Utah and BYU have only played as ranked opponents once, that happened in the 1994 Holy War. Utah won the game 34-31, finishing the year at 10-2 and ranked in the top-ten. It was a home victory for the Utes, who ended a two-game slide, while snapping the Cougars' two-game winning streak. For the past 14 years, it has been regarded as the best Holy War in history, namely because they both met ranked. The rarity of that feat has not been duplicated since, well at least until now, where the 11-0 Utes, ranked 8th in the nation, take on the 10-1 and 16th ranked Cougars. How does that benefit Utah? Well this season, when two ranked teams have met, the home team has performed extremely well. Meaning that even though both teams might be ranked, the added benefit of playing in front of a partisan crowd seems to bolster the home team. Hopefully that trend continues Saturday for the Utes.
In Week One, there were two contests that pitted ranked opponents against one another. Both games were played on a neutral field, as Alabama and Clemson met in Atlanta, Georgia, while Illinois and Missouri played in St. Louis. Since there was never a true advantage, I won't use either of these games.
In Week Two, no games were played where both opponents were ranked.
In Week Three, South Florida, ranked 19th, defeated 13th ranked Kansas at home. USC, ranked 1st, defeated 5th ranked Ohio State at home. Tenth ranked Wisconsin beat 21st ranked Fresno State on the road.
In Week Four, 18th ranked Wake Forest defeated 24th ranked Florida State on the road. 6th ranked LSU defeated 10th ranked Auburn on the road.
In Week Five, 2nd ranked Oklahoma defeated 24th ranked TCU at home. 8th ranked Alabama defeated 3rd ranked Georgia on the road. 12th Ranked Penn State defeated 22nd ranked Illinois at home.
In Week Six, 19th ranked Vanderbilt defeated 13th ranked Auburn at home. 9th ranked USC defeated 23rd ranked Oregon at home. 14th ranked Ohio State defeated 18th ranked Wisconsin on the road.
In Week Seven, 17th ranked Oklahoma State defeated 3rd ranked Missouri on the road. 11th ranked Florida defeated 4th ranked LSU at home.
In Week Eight, 10th ranked Georgia defeated 22nd ranked Vanderbilt at home. 12th ranked Ohio State defeated 20th ranked Michigan State on the road. 4th ranked Oklahoma defeated 16th ranked Kansas at home. Number 1 ranked Texas defeated 11th ranked Missouri at home.
In Week Nine, 8th ranked Texas Tech defeated 19th ranked Kansas on the road. Number 1 ranked Texas defeated 7th ranked Oklahoma State at home. 9th ranked Georgia defeated 11th ranked LSU on the road. 3rd ranked Penn State defeated 10th ranked Ohio State on the road.
In Week Ten, 6th ranked Texas Tech defeated 1st ranked Texas at home.
In Week Eleven, 10th ranked Utah defeated 11th ranked TCU at home. 19th ranked North Carolina defeated 22nd ranked Georgia Tech at home. Number one ranked Alabama defeated 15th ranked LSU on the road. 2nd ranked Texas Tech defeated 8th ranked Oklahoma State at home. 7th ranked USC defeated 21st ranked Cal at home.
In Week Twelve, 3rd ranked Florida defeated 24th ranked South Carolina at home.
When two ranked teams meet, the home team has a record of 16-11. That's a winning percentage of 59%. Now that might not seem like an extraordinary winning percentage, but if you look at just the games where the home team had a better ranking, the winning percentage goes up. Home teams ranked higher are 13-2 so far this season, or a winning percentage of 86%.
The lone two exceptions were when 17th ranked Oklahoma State defeated 3rd ranked Missouri and 8th ranked Alabama beat 3rd ranked Georgia. Which if you are a BYU fan gives you hope this Saturday as twice this season the lower ranked team managed to knock off their higher ranked opponent on the road. Coincidentally, both those teams were ranked 3rd when they lost. I don't know if that could be considered the Curse of the Thirds, though.
What this does show is that when two teams meet ranked, the home team wins nearly 60% of the time and when the home team is higher ranked, they win nearly 90% of the time. That doesn't include road wins by higher ranked opponents, which would be another favorable number for the Utes. Add in the history of the Holy War and it's not a surprise the Utes are a 7 point favorite Saturday.
Of course, none of this means the Utes will win. The game is not played on paper -- where the Utes hold a significant edge -- and instead, on the field. But nearly every sign, from the record and comparable opponents to statistical comparisons, points to a Utah victory. For BYU to win, they will need Utah to play a little off Saturday. I'm not saying the Utes will need a horrible game, but if Utah comes in tight or makes a few too many mistakes, then that will give the Cougars an opening. But that will require Utah to play at a level lower than what we've seen from them the past two Holy Wars -- both games the Utes lost. I think in both contests, especially in 2006, Utah over performed, while BYU did not. Which explains why both games were extremely close and there for the taking. BYU managed to win both games because they were the better team, but it didn't happen without a fight. Well that's changed. Utah is now the better team and that means BYU will have to hope to play spoiler like the Utes did the past three rivalry games. Utah played that role well, beating the Cougars in 2005 and nearly beating them in 2006 and 2007. However, we've yet to see how BYU performs as an underdog in the rivalry game under Bronco Mendenhall. That might be the most intriguing unknown entering Saturday's game.