Most important game: Utah Utes

Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.

We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.

And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.


Most important game: at BYU, Sept. 21

Why it's important: The Holy War has always been important to Utah and BYU. Since 1922, only World War II stood in the way of this football rivalry being contested. From 1922 until 2010, the two schools occupied the same conference, so there often were stakes beyond emotion, though emotion was typically enough to make this one fairly nasty.

Yet this Holy War is particularly meaningful compared to those that preceded it, and therefore supersedes whatever the Utes might do in Pac-12 play.

For one, there's the Pac-12 itself. When Utah was invited to join the conference in 2011 and BYU was not, the power structure of the rivalry reversed. While Utes fans might argue they were never "Little Brother," it's unquestionable that Pac-12 membership gave Utah superiority in terms of national stature, not to mention finances, even as BYU opted also to leave the Mountain West and become independent.

And that, for the lack of a better term, leaving behind brings us to the crux of the matter: After this meeting, the Holy War will take a two-year hiatus until 2016. That means the winner will get to gloat for about three years before the programs meet again.

If you are reading this, you are likely a college football fan and you likely really, really dislike at least one rival that you play annually. Just imagine, say, USC fans, if UCLA's 38-28 victory over your Trojans on Nov. 17 would stand until 2016.

You feeling me on this? Thought so.

Moreover, the reason for the hiatus -- 100 percent Utah's choice -- further burns BYU fans. The Utes opted to take a home-and-home with Michigan in 2014-15 instead of playing their rivals. That decision emerged from a new, mostly unspoken but strongly implied, line of Utah thinking: "We're big time now. You are not. Pfffffft."

Now some might counter, if that is so, the Utes need to advance their thinking and focus on the Pac-12's South Division. Perhaps, they would argue, home games against both UCLA and Arizona State, the preseason South favorites, are the key dates on the slate. Win one or both and Utah establishes its conference bona fides.

Neither Kevin nor I think Utah is going to win the South. Beating the Sun Devils or Bruins -- or Arizona or USC for that matter -- would be big wins. Just, we think, not as emotionally fulfilling.

You also could also point out that beating the Cougars would set up for at least a 3-1 start, perhaps 4-0 if Utah can best Oregon State at home on Sept. 14. With a tough schedule thereafter, a Holy War victory might be the difference in becoming bowl eligible in 2013 or not.

Utah has won three in a row in the series, including the last two as Pac-12 members. BYU really, really wants to win this game.

So should Utah. The payoff would be considerable.