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Utes and Cougars meet one last time as conference mates

Saturday afternoon marks the final Mountain West Conference game for both BYU and Utah. It also marks the end of the Holy War as we know it. There is little doubt that, over the course of the next few years, this rivalry will radically change for both teams as they head down far different paths. 

The extent of that change is unknown. However, we do know what this year's game means for both teams.

For the Utes, Saturday marks a chance at redemption - both in this series and on the season. Last year's loss was so difficult because, like the last two before it, defeat came on the final play. The sting was also amplified by the words of Max Hall during his post-game rant - words that certainly have not been forgotten by the coaches and players over the last year.

For the Cougars, this game is a chance to legitimize their season. It hasn't been an easy one down in Provo, as it was fraught with uncertainty for much of September and early October. However, they found their identity, rebounded strong and a win Saturday would top off a surprising and fantastic second-half rally for Bronco Mendehall's boys.

That rally by BYU has changed the dynamics of this game. A month and a half ago, the thought of losing to the Cougars seemed incomprehensible. Now, even with last week's win over the San Diego St. Aztecs, a victory is not a given. Far from it, in fact. 

Of course, this is a rivalry where nothing is ever a guarantee. The games are almost always close, regardless of stadium and record. I expect that to be the case again Saturday. This will be a close game. It will probably come down to one or two plays late in the fourth quarter. BYU isn't going to roll over and Utah has too many flaws to blow them out. 

That means the Utes might be asked to do something they haven't done since 2005 - win a Holy War in the closing seconds. If that's the case, I'm not so sure I have confidence in this team to get it done. They haven't shown in their last three losses to the Cougars they are capable of pulling out a tight win. With history suggesting a close contest, this could be the path we're heading down. 

With all that said, history also suggests the favorite in this series almost always wins this game. That was the case last year, the year before that and the two years before that. The last underdog to win in this series was when Kyle Whittingham's 2005 squad upset BYU down in Provo in 2005. 

Interestingly enough, though, this is only the second time the Utes have been favored in the Holy War against BYU during the Whittingham-Bronco era. The last was 2008 and we know how that ended. 

But this doesn't feel like 2008. Utah has too many issues to expect that type of performance and BYU might be better today than they were at the end of the '08 season. 

They certainly aren't the team that lost to Utah State back in September. In fact, they're playing far better football right now than the Utes. 

Will it be enough to pull the upset? I hope not. But I honestly don't know. 

I don't know because I have no faith in Utah's defense. The Aztecs really carved up the Utes' secondary and the improving BYU offense is probably licking its chops at the potential. 

The Cougars also have a far better defense than San Diego State. This is not going to be a shootout because I don't think BYU's defense will allow that. That means the coaches and Jordan Wynn are going to have to produce and execute a flawless game plan. The offense can't make mistakes and it can't stagnate on important drives. 

Against the Aztecs, that was not a problem. Against Notre Dame and TCU, it undoubtedly played a role in their demise.

Will it Saturday?

Hopefully not.