The University of Utah football team conducted its third of 15 spring practices March 5. At that point, everyone went their separate ways for spring break and the COVID-19 pandemic saw to it that no one returned to campus.
The quarterback competition, mainly between South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley and Utes redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising, moved from the practice field to Zoom meetings.
In the early days of spring ball, before full pads were allowed, which meant it was tough to get a full gauge on anything, head coach Kyle Whittingham and second-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig both praised Rising’s command of the offense, while offering that Rising had a leg up on Bentley and redshirt senior Drew Lisk.
That was to be expected. Rising spent 2019 taking a redshirt at Utah following his transfer from Texas. He spent every day learning Ludwig’s system, even shadowing Ludwig up in the booth on game days.
Bentley does not have the experience under Ludwig that Rising has, but Bentley started 33 games across four seasons for an SEC program. Whether or not that experience trumps the year Rising has with Ludwig remains to be seen.
Between taking a redshirt at Texas in 2018, then taking another redshirt at Utah last season, Rising has exactly zero collegiate snaps on his resume.
“The quarterback room from 1-3 may be as good a 1-3 as you’ll find in the country,” Ludwig told The Salt Lake Tribune last month. “I don’t mean in terms of the best quarterbacks, but in terms of three guys that are very confident in their skills, as athletes, and in their football intellect.
“I’m fired up about this group and I love meeting with them. It is a group of football junkies that get it.”
Zoom meetings and individual workouts at home were out of pandemic-fueled necessity. Players are now streaming back to campus for voluntary workouts. The NCAA last week OK’d a six-week ramp-up plan for college football, which assumes an on-time start to the season and leaves intact the usual 29-day training camp before the opener.
This quarterback decision will come in an imperfect world, but if the NCAA’s six-week calendar holds up, that should be enough time for Whittingham and Ludwig to make an informed decision.
Beyond the ongoing voluntary workouts, Utah can begin required summer access with its players on July 11. Walkthroughs involving a football can begin July 22, with training camp able to start Aug. 5, which is 29 days before Utah’s Sept. 3 opener vs. BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Whoever wins the job has Tyler Huntley’s large shoes to fill. Huntley, who signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens after the NFL Draft, threw for 3,092 yards and accounted for 24 touchdowns as a senior in 2019.