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Is Utah-USC a Rivalry?

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USC v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Is the game between the Utah Utes and the USC Trojans a rivalry? USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton said it was this week ahead of the game between the two Pac-12 South teams.

USC is the preeminent football program in the West and one of the most storied teams in the country. When people think of USC’s rivals, it is traditionally the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, crosstown rival the UCLA Bruins, and the Stanford Cardinal. However, should we also consider Utah a rival?

Utah moved to the Pac-12 in 2011 along with the Colorado Buffaloes. In six-plus seasons, the Utes have become more of a factor in the Pac-12 South. The Utes have yet to win the division, but they have been in the conversation in each of the last three seasons. Despite becoming more entrenched in the Pac-12, Utah does not have a true rival, as the Rumble in the Rockies against Colorado just does not have the same intensity to it as the game against the BYU Cougars. Yes, the two schools are close and considered rivals by the conference, but they are definitely not rivals to each other in the same way that the Colorado State Rams are for Colorado or the BYU Cougars are for the Utes. Utah’s third rival, the Utah State Aggies have not been on the schedule since 2015 and do not appear on any future schedules.

Utah is trending in the opposite direction from their in-state rivals. I have said this for a few years, Utah needs to develop Pac-12 rivalries. Losing a rivalry between either or both in-state schools might be sad, but it could just be a consequence of the changing landscape of college football. Other great rivalries have been lost like Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, and Kansas-Missouri because of conference realignments dating back to 2011 or later. While the fans might miss playing BYU, it does not benefit Utah. The Cougars are 1-5 this season, languishing in independence, unable to move to a Power Five Conference or compete with Power Five teams on the field.

Not only do these two schools face off on the football field, the two teams also battle each other on the recruiting trail. USC tends to win many of the recruiting battles, but Utah has been able to hold onto some players even when the Trojans come calling. As Utah has improved in the Pac-12, they have become more of a factor on the recruiting trail, which will only add heat between these two teams.

Rivalries have to develop organically and cannot be forced. Generally, proximity helps, though it is not required (see USC-Notre Dame) as long as the teams play every year, which Utah and USC do as members of the Pac-12 South. As Utah has been able to beat USC the last two times the Trojans have come to Rice-Eccles Stadium, the game has been more intriguing. Prior to the loss at the Washington State Cougars, Utah was the only team to defeat USC quarterback Sam Darnold as a starter. I think this is a budding rivalry because these are the two teams that were predicted to finish first and second in the Pac-12 South. To me, if Utah and USC continue to face each other with Pac-12 South titles on the line, that will expedite this becoming a full fledged rivalry between the two schools.