Before this past Friday, ESPN analyst Ray Bentley thought he knew what to expect from the upcoming BYU-Utah game. And then the Utes went to Utah State and lost not only the game but their starting quarterback, Jordan Wynn.
“That kind of put the damper on things a little bit,” he said.
Bentley can’t make any predictions about the outcome of the Utes-Cougars matchup — he will be in the broadcast booth at Rice-Eccles Stadium beside play-by-play man Mark Neely — but he’s not entirely sure that what happened in Logan will make a great deal of difference on Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN2).
“I do think we’re going to see a pretty spirited effort,” he said. “You can file that under ‘understatements.’
“I think the prevailing opinion is that BYU should have no problem with this thing. But they’re going into somebody’s backyard, and that somebody doesn’t care for them. That’s your X factor. That’s why I couldn’t even begin to tell you what this game will look like.”
Bentley is convinced the rivalry itself makes this a different game. That the old cliché about tossing the records out has some validity when it comes to Cougars vs. Utes.
And this isn’t someone who has any ties to Utah, other than the occasional trip here to work a college or AFL game. Bentley is a Michigan native who played college football at Central Michigan; played in the USFL in Michigan; and played in the NFL with Buffalo and Cincinnati.
And yet he’s well acquainted with the BYU-Utah rivalry.
“I’ve always heard and known about the Holy War,” he said. “It’s one of the great rivalries in college football. And that’s becoming a rare commodity in this day and age.”
And one that resonates with the national college football audience.
“I think on some level, it does,” Bentley said. “We continue to see the deterioration of some of the traditions that make college football so special. And rivalries, to me, are exciting. They’re always red-letter games.”
Those are thoughts echoed by other national sportscasters since the news broke that the BYU-Utah rivalry will be interrupted in 2014-15, and perhaps again after 2016.
“That’s anything but a good thing.” said CBS Sports’ Verne Lundquist.
“Taking two years off with your biggest rival is a huge turnoff,” said ESPN’s Joe Tessitore.
“That’s wrong. That’s a bad thing,” said CBS Sports Network’s Jim Rome.
“I think it’s bad for college football,” said ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit.
These are not provincial views from people with a rooting interest of some kind. These are all sportscasters on the outside of the rivalry looking in.
And Bentley doesn’t see Utah-Colorado replacing Utah-BYU anytime soon.
“I know you can always start new [rivalries], but that’s hard to do,” he said. “You can’t just make people care about something. They either do or they don’t.”
But Bentley also doesn’t think any of this will have much effect on Saturday’s game.
“I don’t think that’s going to matter much for the players,” Bentley said. “Once it kicks off, nobody will be thinking about that. There will be blood in the water then.”
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.