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DESPITE THE FACT a thousand or so tickets still remained for tonight's BYU-Utah basketball game, the Benson Poll/Educated Guess nonetheless enters into its eighth proud year. Rumors that collegiate hoops apathy had spread to the highly renowned poll have as much foundation as Jim Valvano going to the Clippers or Mike going back to Robyn.

It takes more than empty seats and a pair of mediocre teams to knock the poll out of business. There's tradition involved; there's also the not insignificant fact that, after another successful pick last year, the BP/EG is - ahem - 7-1 lifetime in picking the winner of each season's first BYU-Utah encounter.Besides, rarely has there been a game offering more of a challenge to the basketball-studious students at the respective rival institutions than tonight's game.

The two squads are a lot alike. If one of these teams got sick and couldn't make it to work one morning, the other one could take its place. Utah is 12-10, BYU is 9-8. Neither one has a center. Both are led by a guy named Smith. And both got beaten at home by the Air Force.

But the Benson Poll doesn't base itself on just facts. It bases itself on the students' opinion.

For this year's survey, the law schools at both BYU and Utah were visited.

For a year requiring extra study and deliberation, going to the law schools only seemed appropriate.

Unlike other walks of student life at the rival campuses - which can be quite, as you might imagine, different - the law schools are quite similar.

The students at Utah and BYU, the poll discovered, look, act and move very much the same.

These are not people with deep suntans and a frat party they're trying to forget from last night. These are not loiterers. This is serious school. Law students look like they're in the midst of a 3-year race, which is what they are, the object being not to finish 150th in your class and have to do bankruptcies the rest of your life.

The main non-law topic at the University of Utah law school wasn't the BYU- Utah game. It was just WHICH study carroll did Ted Bundy sit in? Bundy attended the U. of U. law school in the '70s. He didn't graduate but allegedly got good grades in criminal law.

Rumor has it he sat in a carroll very near the fig tree on the mezzanine level of the library.

"Nobody knows for sure, although sometimes I think I see images pop up, here, where I'm sitting," said first-year student Derek Dahlstrom, who then added, "Let's see. I'd say Utah by four."

There were five dissenting votes for BYU at Utah, although Brad Cahoon's wasn't one of them. Cahoon was a linebacker on the BYU football team before making his blitz move to the U. law school. "Utah by whatever the spread is," said Brad, who also observed that in the wake of last November's BYU-Utah football game, "It's been a long winter around here."

At the BYU law school, the atmosphere was somewhat more tense, even, than usual. Grades were coming out the next day.

It took Dave Tuckett, Bill Jeffs and Frank Dibiase a while to come up with their personal point spreads. They acted like their answers were going to be graded.

They deliberated and deliberated and then, like any higher court, split their vote, 2-1 - in favor, in this case, of the Cougars in the matter of Utah v. BYU.

No one at BYU could come up with anyone like Ted Bundy in that school's history, although Jill Munden, a second year student from Washington, D. C., did say, "I don't know, I think we may have some current candidates." Then she said she was of course just joking . . . "and BYU will win by one."

Several BYU law students liked Utah's home court advantage in tonight's game, and because they knew no judge was going to change this venue, went with the Utes. That, as it turned out, was the swing vote that swung the verdict and gives Utah a 2-point edge.

First-year student Steve Hodge wasn't one of the Ute backers, however. "BYU by six," he said, loyally, as he tore his head out of page 685 of a book on contracts. Then he said, "And I didn't even know there was a game."

No problem there. The Benson Poll got what it went after - yet another educated guess. And, it should be noted, at a more than reasonable price. In a year or two, this same kind of opinion from these same people will cost at least $95 an hour.

Benson Poll

(Educated Guess)

Who will win tonight's game?

Based on face-to-face interviews with 25 students each at BYU and the University of Utah.

Utah BYU

BYU men 4 12

BYU women 3 6

BYU total 7 18

Utah men 11 4

Utah women 9 1

Utah total 20 5

Grand total 27 23

Utah point spread: Utah by 4

BYU point spread: BYU by 2

Combined spread: Utah by 2.