SALT LAKE CITY — By normal standards, Jordan Wynn vs. Terrance Cain should be a doozie: The strong-armed slinger versus the serene, steady senior; the 20-year-old dazzler versus the unspectacular guy with an uncanny knack for winning.
Still, drama fans are going to have to sit this one out.
This has less drama than a rice cake.
Cain, who played the last two games in place of injured Wynn, is 9-1 as a starter at Utah. Those are numbers any coach would take. But you won't hear a peep about it from Cain. He's not about to point out the obvious to the coaches.
"Unflappable," says coach Kyle Whittingham, describing Cain's resilience. "Great attitude, a team guy all the way, unselfish — great member of our football team. What can I say?"
Right now it's hard to say anything but this: The man is as cool as a secret agent.
It's not easy to find guys who keep quiet and do what's asked of them, especially when they've been demoted. That's what happened to Cain last year.
"He's everything that we want, as far as the type of young man we want in the program," says quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, a former Ute QB himself. "He's an extremely unselfish guy."
If ever someone had reason to complain, it's Cain. He could dial the call-in shows, alert the press or tweet his case, and people would respond. His passing efficiency rating is 204, which would make him No. 1 in the nation, except that he doesn't have the required number of starts (three-fourths of a team's games). Last week against New Mexico, he completed 20-of-23 passes, a team single-game accuracy record previously set by Johnson.
Last year he led his team to a 7-1 record before being removed as starter. But did he gripe? Not a whisper, or even an insinuation.
"It's my personality. It's how I grew up," says Cain. "My family always told me never to be a selfish person, it's all about the team."
After Wynn sustained a sprained thumb in Game 1 against Pitt, this year, Cain was summoned to his old starting spot. You might expect him to take some satisfaction in the situation and maybe even tweak the coaching staff. But it's not going to happen. All he says is things like he did on Tuesday: "As a backup or as a player, period, you have to work hard every day, just in case anybody gets hurt. Or if you're the starter, you've got to be prepared, be ready to go."
With a lot of players, that stuff is mostly blather. But with Cain, it's a credo. When he returned to start this year, the only thing he drew attention to was his play.
To borrow a phrase from the Coaching Book of Cliches, he's a maximum team guy.
"He's as good as there is," says Whittingham.21 comments on this story
Here, then, is a model for those weary of the self-absorbed T.O.'s, Pacmen and Ochocincos of the world. He's a throwback to an era when self-sacrifice was a common trait. Cain doesn't speculate, grumble, whine or sulk. He will almost certainly vacate his spot again if Wynn returns for the San Jose State game this Saturday. But how will he react?
Same as always.
"I won't change," Cain says. "I'll be the same person."
He'll get ready for the next call and patiently wait.
"He's always a guy that never gets too high, never too low. He's the ultimate competitor," Johnson says.
Competitive, yes. Colorful, no. He's not going to make anyone's quote-of-the-week. However, he is ready to do quality work on a moment's notice.
Which counts for plenty.
Just ask any airline pilot.
There's a certain luxury to having a guy on permanent standby.