<
>

Learning to hate in the Pac-12

SALT LAKE CITY -- Ohio State-Michigan? Whatever. Auburn-Alabama? That's a quaint bit of hate. Oregon-Washington? The ranting and raving from the rain-soaked adherents in green and purple fleece just doesn't compare.

To what, you ask? Well, the hottest rivalry in college football, of course.

Utah-Colorado! (Cue "Psycho" shower scene music).

Doesn't do it for ya does it?

Think about your college football conference. Every game matters, but some matter just a bit more. Those are your rivals. You don't like them; they don't like you. It's a beautiful thing.

Now consider Utah and Colorado fans. The Utes, who are leaving the Mountain West for the Pac-12, are still under contract with arch-rival BYU for the next two seasons, but there are no guarantees that game will continue to be played annually (though the good money says it will). The Buffaloes, who are leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-12, no longer will play arch-rival Nebraska, which is skipping off to the Big Ten.

Their new schedules include nine conference games with teams that, well, they just don't have any strong feelings about.

"I'm sure we can conjure up some kind of hate for [Colorado]," Utah's colorful offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom said. "Tell us they're Communists or something."

Tony, they are Communists.

Expansion isn't a regular thing. Oh, the Southwest Conference got picked apart in 1996, and the ACC raided the Big East in 2004-05, but when teams jump from conference to conference -- particularly when automatic qualifying conferences are involved -- it sends strange ripples across sport's space-time continuum. The Buffaloes and Utes in the Pac-12 is a new thing in a sport that leans hard on its history to fuel the emotions of obsessive fandom.

You can't force the Utes and Buffaloes to hate each other. That's not how it's done. Confessed Utah linebacker Brian Blechen, "I don't have anything against Colorado."

So what must be done? Obviously, some Pac-12 team must commit a grave offense against Utah or Colorado. This, of course, will be mostly imagined, thereby making it easier to attribute it mythic status over the coming years.

"Invariably, something is going to happen in those games, and School X is going to be the school that you point to," Colorado coach Jon Embree said.

Embree also has been selling to his players that they are a part of program history because they, in fact, are making program history.

"Coach Embree said in the locker room that we get to start new traditions, we get to start new rivalries," Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "That's something to look forward to. Ten years from now, if the Colorado-Utah game is a big rivalry, we can say, 'Hey, we were the first game. We started that rivalry.' That could be something special."

There are potential angles for Utah-Colorado hate. Nebraska was all about red. Colorado fans therefore are not big fans of red. Utah is all about red, too. And everyone knows that Utah fans are jealous of the vastly superior skiing in Colorado. Or is it vice versa?

On perhaps a more substantive level, Colorado is entering the Pac-12 as an equal member -- in 2012, per the original agreement -- while Utah will get no payout from the conference in 2011 (other than an equal share of revenue from the Pac-12 championship game), and partial shares for the two years after that (50 percent in 2012 and 75 percent in 2013). There is some "all are equal but some are more equal than others" at play here.

While the Buffaloes have been a mediocre team of late in the Big 12, and the Utes are a national power coming out of the MWC, there's still a bias that favors the AQ team. When Utah -- or TCU or Boise State, for that matter -- was making one of its undefeated runs over the past few seasons, some dismissed it with a, "They wouldn't be able to do that in the SEC/Pac-10/Big Ten/Big 12."

"Coming from the Mountain West, I think a lot of people are going to be look at how we transition into that," Blechen said. "Kind of like a statement on whether we can hang or not in the Pac-12. I think we'll be ready."

Of course, Utah's most recent game with a Pac-12 team was a win over California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl. Colorado visited California last fall. That trip went badly.

"A lot of bad," Hansen said with a pained look. "I'm looking forward to playing those guys. That's a big game for me personally because I didn't play well last year."

So there you have it: Colorado has a history with a Pac-12 foe.

Of course, not everyone fuels up on emotion.

"I've been playing different teams my whole life," Colorado running back Rodney Stewart said. "I don't care who I'm playing against. I just try to do my job. It's just football."

It is just football, but that's the good news for we lovers of rivalries. Football is too emotional and physical of a game for teams that regularly play to remain neutral about each other.

No hate between Utah and Colorado and other Pac-12 teams? Just give it time.