- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Don't expect either Jeff Tedford or Mike Riley to suggest that Utah or BYU would be "mid-level" Pac-10 teams over the next few days.
That assessment about BYU made by then-Oregon coach Mike Bellotti in 2006 came back to bite the Ducks and the Pac-10 when the Cougars rolled to a 38-8 Las Vegas Bowl victory.
Utah fans probably don't spend much time fretting perceived slights lobbed at rival BYU, but conference pride is an issue anytime the Pac-10 and Mountain West square off, as they will twice early next week when Oregon State faces BYU in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl on Tuesday and Tedford's Bears take on Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday.
The Pac-10 is a BCS conference. The MWC is the best of the non-AQ conferences. That means one conference wants to prove it belongs at the expense of one that already does.
Tedford obviously has no interest in fanning any perceived rivalry flames.
"The Mountain West is as strong as there is. I have a lot of respect for everybody in their conference," he said. "We have a lot of respect for them. I don't know if we look at it like a rivalry-type thing."
As for Riley, controversial comments really aren't his style, not to mention that BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is a former Beavers player and coach and he and Riley have become friendly through the years.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Riley said.
Notice the respect theme?
Still, things have been fairly spirited between the Pac-10 and MWC since the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl. Much was made of the MWC going 6-1 vs. the Pac-10 during the 2008 regular season. Less has been made of the Pac-10 running off four consecutive victories since then. The Pac-10 went 6-3 vs. the MWC in 2007.
No. 23 Utah and No. 14 BYU are ranked ahead of their Pac-10 foes, unranked Cal and No. 18 Oregon State. But the Bears and Beavers are both slight favorites to win.
The conference rivalry, however, is mostly an issue among fans. Motivation and attitude will be bigger issues for the players.
Three of the teams are coming off season-ending defeats and none of the four teams are thrilled about their bowl destination.
BYU had hopes for a BCS bowl berth when it opened with a victory over Oklahoma. Those fizzled after blowout defeats to Florida State and TCU.
Instead of a BCS bowl, the Cougars are playing in their fifth consecutive Las Vegas Bowl. Feel free to consider the humor of BYU being redundantly sent to Sin City.
Utah, meanwhile, has played three ranked teams this year and lost to all three, most painfully to BYU, 26-23, in the season-finale. The Poinsettia Bowl won't feel much like last year's Sugar Bowl berth opposite Alabama, a victory that capped an unbeaten season.
Cal once was ranked sixth in the country, but it was thoroughly drubbed in each of its four losses, including a stunningly poor performance in the season finale at Washington that ended a late-season surge with a thud.
Oregon State also lost its season-finale to rival Oregon. That only cost the Beavers a berth in the Rose Bowl.
So which teams will overcome disappointment, be focused in practice and play with a sense of urgency come game time?
The teams that end up winning.
"It's one of those life lessons for everybody," Riley said. "Disappointment is not a bad thing."
Riley said it's all about how a team responds to adversity. He said his team appears to be responding well and will not use disappointment as an excuse.
Said Tedford, "There's been a lot of excitement... I sense an eagerness to have another opportunity to play."
What are the stakes then upon which that excitement is based?
None of the four want to be perceived as a mid-level Pac-10 team.
12hSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson