Jake Bentley’s captaincy doesn’t make him Utah’s starting QB, but it signifies the respect of his teammates

(Photo courtesy of University of Utah Athletics) Utah quarterback Jake Bentley.

Kyle Whittingham knew what was coming on Saturday afternoon when he addressed reporters.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the University of Utah football program announced its four captains for the upcoming season. One of them is South Carolina graduate transfer quarterback Jake Bentley. A quarterback named as a captain is not cause to raise eyebrows, but in this case, it leads to questions given Bentley is locked in a three-way battle to decide who the starter will be.

The first question posed to Whittingham Saturday following the Utes' first live scrimmage of fall camp centered on his four captains — Bentley, center Orlando Umana, linebacker Devin Lloyd, and defensive Mika Tafua — and what each brought to the table.

Whittingham got out in front of the elephant in the room, Bentley, long perceived as the eventual starter for the Nov. 7 opener, being voted a captain.

“The first thing I’ll say is don’t read anything into Jake Bentley being a captain as far as winning the job,” Whittingham said. “That’s just what his peers think of him. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a positive thing, but that does not factor into our decision as far as who’s going to be the guy.”

In Whittingham’s defense, a quarterback being named a captain does not always indicate who the starter will be. Utah’s recent history at the position is proof.

In 2016, Troy Williams was a captain. He started all 13 games at quarterback for Utah, throwing for 2,757 yards and 15 touchdowns as part of a 9-4 season. Late in training camp ahead of the 2017 season, Williams was again voted as a captain. Days later, sophomore Tyler Huntley was named the starting quarterback. Huntley went on to win 23 games as a starter, was named All-Pac-12 first team as a senior in 2019, and is currently on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad.

Even if Bentley’s captaincy is not a sure sign of who the starting quarterback will be, it is a clear sign of how much progress he has made in a short time.

Bentley committed to Utah on Dec. 9, arriving on the Salt Lake City campus in January for the start of the spring semester. Bentley has never taken a game snap for Utah, and he had all of three spring practices under his belt before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the remaining 12. Bentley and his teammates arrived back on campus in a voluntary capacity in mid-June, began working out and rolled into the start of fall camp on Aug. 9.

It took Bentley all of 10 months, no game snaps, a small handful of spring practices and a summer’s worth of workouts to apparently win over his teammates.

“It says they respect his work ethic, his character, how he conducts himself, the rapport he has with those guys, particularly on the offensive side of the ball,” Whittingham said. "It’s a rarity for a guy to be in the program that short a period of time and be elected a team captain without knowing if he’s even a starter.

“That speaks to the level of respect our team has for Jake. He’s a mature guy that handles himself exactly like you want a quarterback to handle himself as far as just his demeanor and how he handles his business.”

Whittingham said Saturday that the three-man quarterback competition will move to two candidates beginning Monday. The 16th-year head coach did not say who the two would be, but it has long been assumed the competition would boil down to Bentley and redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising. Senior Drew Lisk, from Jordan High School, is the other QB competing for the job.

Whittingham expects to have a starter in place on or around Saturday, which will feature Utah’s second and final scrimmage.