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Bad feelings foment 'Holy War' intrigue for BYU, Utah

Utah takes on BYU in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday, the Holy War re-engaged in Sin City to kick off the bowl season.

That is just... beautiful. Among our 42 bowl games, none will approach the behind-the-scenes, soap-operatic emotions of this one.

Neither team is particularly happy to be in Las Vegas, which offers temptations that large percentages of both fan bases strenuously avoid. Both teams desperately want to win, as much because of the frustrated disappointment victory inflicts as the joy it produces. There is a wonderful brew of misery and zeal and emotion and visceral dislike here, one that differentiates itself from other state rivalries because there is a religious dimension.

Count on these two teams getting after each other. This is going to be a brawl, something you might not be able to say about plenty of bowl games.

Some would like to bring civility to the matchup. BYU fan Seth Barrus created a petition on Change.org asking fans of both teams "to commit to kindness, commit to civility, commit to treating others the way you want to be treated." As of this writing, he has 293 signatures.

Sam Boyd Stadium, with its 38,500 seats, sold out in less than a day after the matchup's announcement. Tickets on StubHub start at $109, which is comparable to or more expensive than major bowl games. Not sure what percentage are committed to kindness and civility, but they are committed to something.

Some see some humor in the rivalry, see this play on the new Stars Wars movie, "The Force Awakens."

But, pleasantries aside, Utah defensive lineman Viliseni Fauonuku pretty much decided that everyone should know how the programs feel about each other during the Outback Steakhouse Welcome Reception on Wednesday night.

He grabbed a microphone during what was supposed to be a dance off between the teams and delivered a fairly unambiguous message, "BYU. Y'all a good team but you're a dirty team. Don't start nothing. Won't be nothing." If you are wondering if the mendacious media is taking this out of context, see the video here. The divided reaction tells the story, as does a man with a forced smile trying to get the microphone away from Faounuku.

Oh, it's started. And it's going to be something.

It started as a longstanding, hotly contested state rivalry between a secular state institution (Utah) and a private one that is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (BYU). Then Utah joined the Pac-12 and became a Power 5 "have" program, while BYU's decision to leave the Mountain West Conference and become an independent has proven to be a mixed bag. Thereafter, Utah decided -- with just a dash of smugness -- that it didn't need to play BYU every season. That inspired a new war of words.

The rivalry was to be renewed on Sept. 10, 2016 in the regular season, and both programs have worked to ensure the programs play frequently in the future, if not annually. But it doesn't take much to get college football fans riled up in the appropriately named Beehive State.

What stirs the drink -- non-alcoholic! -- of the whole affair in an unusual way is the relative misery index for both teams.

BYU is saying goodbye to longtime coach Bronco Mendenhall, who is leaving for Virginia after 11 seasons in Provo. The Cougars could be focused on sending him out on a winning note or feeling betrayed.

Utah, meanwhile, is unhappy it's playing in its second consecutive Las Vegas Bowl after finishing 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, technically tied for the South Division title with USC. The Utes were passed over by several bowls, and that stings. They've won four in a row in the rivalry series and coach Kyle Whittingham, a former BYU linebacker who has twice turned down his alma mater's offer to take over the Cougars, is 8-1 in bowl games, so there's a strong expectation that Utah should take care of business Saturday.

The Utes, as the now Big Brother in the rivalry, are burdened by that status. Being expected to win is not as fun as being an underdog, which is a big reason Utah fans are less likely to value the rivalry these days.

So this mix of emotions is at play, which thickens the plot, even if we don't throw in that the winner becomes the first team to win four Las Vegas Bowls.

Utah wants to win 10 games for the first time as a member of the Pac-12. BYU is eyeballing an uncertain future with a new coach and a hope that it will be invited to join a Power 5 conference.

Yet, in the end, all of the huffing and puffing and trash-talking and ascribing of darkness and light to one or the other side -- "Dirty, I say! Dirty!" -- funnels furiously into one simple fact.

It's the Holy War, Red vs. Blue, and that is enough.