At one point in the not-so-distant past, the quarterback situation at Utah seemed clear once Tyler Huntley plays his final game in the Alamo Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Spring practice was going to be billed as Cameron Rising vs. Jason Shelley for that vacant quarterback spot, with Drew Lisk potentially factoring in.
Things have changed radically in the last few weeks.
Kyle Whittingham scored a commitment from South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley, who has 33 games and 1,002 pass attempts under his belt as a collegian at a Power Five program. That commitment on Dec. 9 completely changed how Whittingham’s quarterbacks room will look for the foreseeable future.
When Bentley shows up in Salt Lake City for the spring semester, he and Rising will be the two primary challengers at quarterback. Rising transferred to Utah last January, but was denied immediate eligibility by the NCAA. He ran the scout team this season as he waited for his turn.
UTAH VS. TEXAS
When • Dec. 31, 5:30 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN
Whittingham said getting Bentley may at least partially explain the fact Shelley has been moved to defense. Whittingham alluded to that fact on Wednesday, but he and Shelley both confirmed on Friday that it is already happening. Furthermore, Whittingham said Shelley may see the field at safety in the Alamo Bowl.
The status of Lisk, a former walk-on with one year of eligibility remaining, is up in the air, as he may graduate and move on from Utah.
“We feel good, and like I think I mentioned the other day, we’re going to add another one or two depending on what happens,” Whittingham said. “Cam Rising is going to be in the room, and we know Jake Bentley is going to be in the room, and ideally we need two more.
“It’ll be a different look next year, but we feel confident we’ll be in good shape.”
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig echoed Whittingham, offering confidence that the group as presently constructed will yield a strong choice once next season opens on Sept. 5 vs. BYU.
“I feel good,” Ludwig said. “We had an addition on Signing Day [Bentley] and we’ve got some good young players in the room and they’ve had time to compete. We’ve had good bowl preparation and those young guys have had time to get reps, so I feel good about the direction of that room.”
Bentley and Rising will bring different things to the table. Bentley, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in the Gamecocks’ opener on Aug. 31, has the game experience and the stats, throwing for 7,527 yards, 55 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. To boot, Ludwig and Bentley have a relationship, Ludwig having recruited Bentley out of high school while the offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.
Bentley, though, does not have the experience Rising has in terms of working in Ludwig’s system, which he has done for the last year. That will help Rising’s cause next spring, but there is no replacement for game reps, of which Rising has none.
“It helps a lot [being in the system], but he doesn’t have the reps, the actual game reps at a high level of competition that Jake would have,” Ludwig said. “He’ll know all the terminology, he’ll know every routine that we have to go through, whereas Jake will have to learn it on the fly.”
Potentially complicating Rising’s candidacy is the fact he hasn’t played in a game in two years. A four-star recruit from Ventura, Calif., Rising took a redshirt at Texas as a true freshman in 2018, then was forced to do the same this season after the NCAA ruled against him. Rising has three years of eligibility remaining.
“It’s just going to be competition all the time,” Rising said. “We’ve got some good quarterbacks in the room, and I’m just looking forward to getting better. Developing as a player and a person.
“I feel like I know pretty much everything, it’s just repping it and getting those reps down, just applying it to the field.”
Shelley being the odd-man out in this whole process seemed far-fetched even a month ago. When Huntley broke his collarbone last season, Shelley, then a redshirt freshman, started the last five games, helping steer the Utes to the Pac-12 championship game and the Holiday Bowl. He was the backup during spring practice, and has essentially been that this season, even if he has been listed as the co-No. 2 next to Lisk.
Ludwig said Shelley’s move to defense was out of necessity, while Whittingham spoke positively of Shelley since he moved to the other side of the ball over the weekend. Shelley, for what it’s worth, has never played defense before.
He said he wants to play quarterback and wished he got a shot to do so, but also preached a team-first mentality. When pressed, Shelley said he has no plans to transfer, but he also appears to see the writing on the wall.
If he wants to be a college quarterback, it is not going to be with the Utes.
“I went from trying to score touchdowns to trying to prevent touchdowns, that’s the biggest thing for me,” Shelley said. “Coming from offense, I think I have an advantage on knowing what offenses try to do, so that kind of helped me ease into the defensive side.”
UTAH’S 2020 QUARTERBACK OPTIONS*
Jake Bentley (South Carolina graduate transfer): 7,527 yards, 55 touchdowns and 32 interceptions in 33 games across four seasons … Had senior season end due to injury in South Carolina’s 2019 opener … Former Class of 2016 four-star recruit, who was recruited by Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig when he was the offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.
Cameron Rising (Redshirt sophomore): Ran the Utah scout team in 2019 after transferring from Texas in January. Rising appealed the NCAA for immediate eligibility upon arrival, but was denied, necessitating a second redshirt year … Has a year under belt in Ludwig’s system, but has not taken game reps since high school.
Drew Lisk (Redshirt senior): Lisk is set to graduate and may move on from Utah, but Kyle Whittingham had not ruled the Draper product out of the mix yet as of Friday … Lisk was listed as the co-No. 2 quarterback this season, but was essentially No. 3 behind Tyler Huntley and Jason Shelley … Has seen action in six career games, including four this season … For his career, Lisk is 7 for 9 for 52 yards, with all of it coming this season.
*Whittingham said Friday Utah is still looking to ideally add another one or two quarterbacks. The early signing period for football ended on Friday, while the regular signing period runs from Feb. 5 through April 1.