Las Vegas • The last time Terrance Cain was on the football field for the Utes, he lasted just two possessions, throwing two interceptions in the Utes' 17-16 win over BYU.
So how much confidence do the Utes have in their senior for Wednesday's Las Vegas Bowl game between the No. 20 Utes (10-2) and No. 10 Boise State Broncos (11-1)?
Plenty, said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Whittingham believes Utah's bowl practices, along with the knowledge that Cain will start rather than being inserted in a game at a moment's notice, will make a big difference in the way the senior quarterback plays.
"He had a couple of bad series, no doubt about that," Whittingham said. "But this is a whole different situation and we've tailored the game plan to his skill set and he has had all the reps with the ones. I don't draw a comparison to the last game, but expect more of what we saw last year when he was the starter."
Cain said after the Utes' practice at UNLV on Monday that he was ready for the game.
"You don't want your career to end like that," he said of the BYU game. "I've got another opportunity and I want to make it count."
The Utes are expected to go with more of a running attack to use Cain's best attributes. While comfortable with the schemes, Cain said that is only half the battle.
"You don't have a game plan if you don't execute," he said. "You have to execute in the game. That's what counts."
Both players and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham downplayed Sunday's incident in which the Utes and Broncos had a heated exchange during a bowl-sponsored gathering at the Hard Rock Cafe.
"Guys are competitive and get excited and it's not that uncommon in bowl situations," Whittingham said. "It's unfortunate and you don't want it to happen, but I think it's behind us and we move forward."
The incident happened as players from both teams mingled. Words and shoves were exchanged but the spat lasted less than a minute.
"People are just getting hyped for the game, you know how boys are," running back Matt Asiata said. "You see your opponents and you want to talk but talk doesn't do anything. It doesn't put points on the board. We are just anxious to get on the field and bump some heads."
College coaches often say one of the biggest benefits of going to a bowl game is the extra practice sessions it provides for the up-and-coming players.
Whittingham shares in that philosophy and has had his eye on several players who have pleased him during bowl practices with their efforts.
Freshman receiver Dres Anderson, junior receiver Mo Lee and backup quarterback Griff Robles have stood out for the offense, Whittingham said.
Defensively, freshman defensive end Trevor Reilly and freshmen linebacker Jacoby Hale and V.J. Fehoko have impressed Whittingham along with freshmen defensive backs Wykie Freeman and Michael Walker.
"We're looking like we have a lot of potential," Whittingham said.
Waiting in line
Hearing his coach praise his work helps Robles' confidence, he said. Robles, a 6-4, 230-pound freshman, has played in four games and has rushed 17 times for 124 yards. He is 0-of-1 passing, but believes he can step in for Cain if a situation calls for him to do so.
"It has helped me to get more reps in practice so I'm not too nervous," he said of the thought of playing more. "We had a couple of weeks to prepare so I feel like I'm ready."
While most of Utah's players spent Sunday relaxing, Utah receiver DeVonte Christopher and a handful of other players put in some hours of volunteer work with Christopher's grandmother feeding the homeless. It's a tradition his grandmother has had since Christopher was little.
"She was doing it even before I was born," Christopher said. "She instilled values in us that you have to be thankful for everything you have. Learning that at a young age was helpful for me."
Higher Ed Watch has released a report ranking teams on their academic success using the teams' academic progress rates. If academics determined the BCS title opponents, it would be Stanford and Boise State battling for the national title, not Oregon and Auburn.
Stanford was ranked No. 1 with a 94.0 rate followed by Boise State (86.7), TCU (81.0), Ohio State (79.3) and Utah (75.7).
Auburn ranks 20th (33.0) and Oregon is 21st (24.7).