You can forget the hated Nebraska Cornhuskers, you can forget the CSU Rams; The Utah Utes are our true rival. Put aside recent passions, this is all about the full width and breadth of athletic history along the Rockies. Believe me, no one hates the big red "N" more than I, and those recent games with the Rams, win or lose, have been fraught with drama; but the historical significance of a rivalry that sees us set against an institution more in line with our academic and regional proclivities is something that cannot be ignored.
Since almost the beginning of inter-collegiate athletics at CU, Utah was the Buffs primary out-of-state rival. Such was the importance placed on the rivalry that what would become Folsom Field and even the nickname "Buffaloes" were christened against the Utes. Successful coaches, like Myron Witham (and his near .700 record), had their entire tenures at CU defined by their success or failure against the Salt Lake City rival.
Consider this, of all the non-Big 12 opponents to ever grace the schedule only CSU has met the Buffs on the field more often than Utah. In addition, the series was usually even, with the all-time record standing at 30-24-3 CU. For the 38 years that they shared a conference affiliation (1910-1937), either CU or Utah took home the conference crown 27 times; with the CU/Utah clash often being the deciding factor. Proving that special players show up in the biggest of spotlights, Byron "Whizzer" White had probably his two best days in a Buff uniform against the Utes in '36 and '37 (350 all-purpose yards a piece!).
Despite changing conferences, CU and Utah would continue to meet for another 24 years. 1961 was the last time the rivals met in Colorado. CU entered the game high in the national polls, but stubbed their toes against their old rival. Losing to the Utes 21-12, the CU team that would eventually play LSU in the Orange Bowl probably cost themselves a top 3 ranking with the loss. The game the following year in Salt Lake City would be the final entry in the rivalry (at least until the near future).
Beyond the gridiron, the Buffs and Utes share a regional dominance in skiing. As the two schools begin play in the "conference of champions," they will be bringing with them a combined 28 national titles and 145 individual titles in the sport. In the western region they stand alone at the top of the heap winning a combined 102 of 151 ski meets since 1983. They are the powers in western skiing, and that particular segment of the rivalry will no doubt be heightened by their new conference affiliation.
Sure, blinding rage (in the case of the Huskers) or dismissive condescendence (in the case of the Rams) can make for an intense and exciting rivalry; but CU and Utah share something deeper. The share a common, albeit somewhat estranged, history; something which forms the bedrock of almost every big-time rivalry across the country. For me the cherry on top of the move to the Pac-10 is the opportunity to hit the rewind button and kick-start the 48-year dormant rivalry that, for a time, defined football in the American West. I just can't wait for that first Pac-10 game with the Utes.
(Note: Much of the research from this article, especially the second paragraph, originally comes from David Plati's incredible Colorado Football Vault. Check out specifically pages 30-40)