For much of this season, the Utah Utes were seen as a favorite to win the Pac-12 South, especially after defeating USC 31-28 back in September. However, after the 30-28 loss to Oregon in the final seconds on Saturday, Utah was eliminated from winning the Pac-12 South for the third year in a row in the 11th game of the season. Unlike 2014 and 2015 however, Utah has the opportunity to play Pac-12 South spoiler against Colorado. If Utah defeats Colorado, the Buffaloes will not win the Pac-12 South, instead USC would become the first team since UCLA in 2011-12 to win the Pac-12 South two years in a row. If Colorado beats Utah today, they win the Pac-12 South, which means the Utes would be the only team to not win the Pac-12 South since the Pac-10 expanded to 12 teams in 2011. Colorado would also become the fifth different team in the last five seasons to win the Pac-12 South.
When the Pac-10 expanded to 12 teams by adding Utah and Colorado in 2011, the two newest members restarted a rivalry that had been dormant for almost 50 years. The Rumble in the Rockies has not felt like a rivalry in the same way that say the Holy War does for Utah fans. It has felt forced, artificial, contrived. Rivalries cannot be created, they have to develop naturally over time. There needs to be a history of bad blood between the two programs for there to be a heated rivalry. Think about everything that has shaped the Holy War: the proximity of the two schools, all of the memorable games and quotes, and so much more that the Rumble in the Rockies just does not have.
The Rumble in the Rockies will feel more and more like a rivalry as the two teams continue to play each other as Pac-12 teams. It will just take time. Is there a way to expedite the rivalry process however? Well, maybe. Playing meaningful games with Pac-12 South titles on the line adds to the intensity of the games and will likely add to the disdain between the two teams. Prior to this season, Colorado finished at the bottom of the Pac-12 South every year. It is hard to dislike a team that struggled as much as the Buffaloes did for their first five years in the Pac-12. Now that they are relevant, it will be easier to dislike them. Outside of the 2011 game (more on that below), there has been nothing on the line for either team in their annual meeting between 2012-14. Having something to play for will amp up the heat index on the game and the rivalry.
In 2011, Utah fell in the final game of the season to 2-10 Colorado 17-14 in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Had Utah won that game, they would have been the Pac-12 South Champions. In 2016, Utah has the chance to return the favor to the Buffaloes. If they do, I anticipate this feeling more like a real rivalry in the years to come, and I believe it is important for Utah to have a true rival in the Pac-12 as it furthers their transition from Mountain West team to Pac-12 contender.