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Red All Over: Will the NCAA Transfer Portal make it harder for freshman QBs to break through?

Nate Johnson, a three-star QB recruit from Clovis, Calif., committed to Utah late last week.

(Ed Kosmicki | Special to The Tribune) The red team linebacker Chris Wilson gets a grip on black team's Peter Costelli #8 during the annual spring football game at the University of Utah, 17 April 2021.

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The University of Utah received a quarterback commitment from the class of 2022 late last week when Clovis (Calif.) High School three-star prospect Nate Johnson pledged to the Utes.

The quarterback depth within a program is always a topic of conversation, especially when one commits, so Johnson’s commitment, plus the current state of roster building, got me thinking.

With the NCAA Transfer Portal offering veteran, immediately-eligible options, some of whom have Power Five-level resumes, is that going to lessen the chance for high school recruits to ultimately see the field for meaningful snaps?

Admittedly, I don’t have an answer for this, but I do think it’s worth pondering given Utah’s QB situation, not to mention Kyle Whittingham’s clear willingness to hit the portal when he needs to.

Since Jan. 2019, Whittingham has scored four QBs from the portal, all from Power Five schools, but with varying degrees of experience.

Of the four, Cameron Rising (Texas) has started a game, although he lasted just 14 offensive snaps before a season-ending shoulder injury, as has Jake Bentley (South Carolina). When fall camp opens, Rising will battle Charlie Brewer (Baylor) for the starting job. The fourth, Ja’Quinden Jackson (Texas), is unlikely to start this fall, but could see the field in certain packages.

The portal is there to be used, Whittingham is going to use it, so what of a prospect like Nate Johnson, who spurned the University of Michigan in choosing Utah? What of a guy like four-star 2021 commit Peter Costelli, who enrolled early and will be a freshman this fall?

Forget Johnson for a moment, because Costelli is where things get interesting. The Mission Viejo, Calif., native was the cornerstone of Whittingham’s 2021 recruiting effort. The staff likes him, the staff believes he’s part of the future ... but what if the portal has someone better, someone more experienced to offer? Again, I don’t have all the answers here, but with the portal essentially acting as free agency, it’s worth thinking about.

Below is Utah’s projected QB depth for 2022, at which time Brewer will no longer be part of the equation.

• Cameron Rising (fifth-year junior)

• Peter Costelli (redshirt freshman or sophomore)

• Ja’Quinden Johnson (sophomore)

• Nate Johnson (freshman)

SPOILER: Looking at that, there’s probably going to be an addition.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• Shameless plug: I’m co-hosting on ESPN700 in place of Bill Riley on Friday, then all of next week, from 11-2. If things go sideways at any point, I blame Bill for trusting me with the responsibility.

• The Pac-12 going back to in-person football media day on July 27 in Los Angeles is another sign that normalcy is returning. Truth be told, Zoom gets very tiresome, very quickly. From a Utah perspective, the access was worse, which means the level of coverage got worse, which affects you, the reader. This is a face-to-face business, so I am very much looking forward to seeing a great many people face-to-face next month.

• Don’t pencil in 2022 Farmington guard Collin Chandler to Utah just yet. BYU is in there, Stanford is in there, Utah State got an official visit earlier this week, and Arizona offered him last weekend. It will be interesting, though, whether or not first-year head coach Craig Smith can keep one of the state’s three-best recruits home as part of his first full recruiting cycle at the helm.

• The NCAA famously moves at a glacial pace when it comes to infraction cases. That said, Arizona State is going to play football this fall, Herm Edwards is going to be the head coach, and yes, the Sun Devils, if things break right, could be in play to win the Pac-12 South.

Your questions

Q: “There was an article today (Monday from Jon Wilner of The Mercury News) indicating that Pac-12 football is considering torching divisions and going to top-2 records in the conference championship game, a la Big 12. This seems like a no brainer to me in light of pending CFP expansion rules. Any real reasons not to?” — @GwilliUte

A: I like the two-division format, but getting rid of it makes a ton of sense.

By bagging the divisions and going with the two-best records in the Pac-12 title game, you basically remove the possibility of an undeserving three- or four-loss team playing for the conference championship

Remember, in the proposed 12-team format, the six highest-ranked conference champions are guaranteed entry, with the top-four seeds assured of first-round byes. A three- or four-loss Pac-12 champion may be among the six highest-ranked conference champions, but a top-four seed and first-round bye would be more iffy.

Protecting your best teams, helping your best teams do as well as they can. That’s important.

George Kliavkoff sounds like a guy who knows what he’s doing, certainly more than Larry Scott. Scrapping two divisions if the CFP expands would be a wise move.

Q: “How much can be drawn from the pro-am basketball league in Draper?” — @rkdavidson13

A: This question is in reference to The Powder League, an NCAA-sanctioned summer league at American Prep Academy’s Draper campus, in which University of Utah players have been showing up and putting up some gaudy numbers lately.

As someone who covered a Jersey Shore summer league for a decade, where guys from Rutgers, Seton Hall and other metropolitan area players put up huge numbers on a nightly basis, I am expertly qualified to tell you that there is nothing, NOTHING to be drawn from The Powder League.

That doesn’t mean getting a run in down there isn’t a good idea. Go get some competition in, go up and down against players other than your teammates, build some camaraderie with guys, but there will be no correlation between playing well in The Powder League and what goes on when it matters come November.

That’s probably not the answer you wanted. I’m fine with it.

Q: 1. Where in all-time sports accomplishments does Allyson Felix qualifying for her 5th Olympics rank?

2. Also Allyson Felix-related, she ran professionally while going to college. ADIDAS picked up her school tuition and paid her to run. Do you imagine scenarios where this type of arrangement would occur in football or basketball for athletes who wanted to attend college, but still get paid professionally?

A: 1. All-time sports accomplishment feels a little strong, but Felix, a nine-time medalist, is an all-time United States Olympian, and qualifying for a fifth Olympics is a tremendous feat, especially after giving birth.

2. In football, no. In basketball, probably still no. Something like this is sort of, but not really happening in baseball where, if a high school kid is drafted and opts for the pro contract over college, the team signing him will pick up the tuition bill whenever he decides to go back to school.

Q: “Where and what have you eaten that matches up to East Coast food for you? Or even better, have you found anywhere that’s better than the East Coast?” — Anonymous

A: I’ve said before that Valter’s Osteria is probably the best meal I’ve had in Salt Lake City, and that hasn’t changed. It’s not “East Coast” or “New Jersey” Italian food, which is drowning in red sauce. Valter’s is more nuanced, and it’s very good.

Another place I was pleasantly shocked by is Takashi, a sushi joint downtown. I did not come here expecting awesome sushi, but here we are. The food scene in Salt Lake City is underrated, and still growing, which is a good way to describe the beer scene here, too.

Q: “Should Utah have a full home schedule released to their fans before they set their season-ticket renewal deadline? Just a question in principle.” — @Utebuntu

A: Fair question, one that I have never given much thought to.

As a matter of principle, yes, I think it would be a good idea for the basketball program to have a complete nonconference schedule available before it asks season-ticket holders to renew. As a point of reference, the season-ticket renewal deadline was Wednesday, Utah has announced only two nonconference games, and only half the nonconference slate has leaked out.

Flip side: You know what the Pac-12 schedule looks like. You know Utah will host Arizona, Oregon and UCLA, so what are we talking about here? If you’re already a season-ticket holder, you hung in there through the no-fan pandemic season, and you’re being asked to renew knowing you’re getting those three league games, are you really NOT going to renew?

Point taken here, no doubt. A full slate, or at least some idea of what the slate looks like, would help, but I have a hard time getting worked up over it.

Random musings

• I’ve driven by Grove Market and Deli on South Main Street 1,000 times, but finally decided to stop for lunch over the weekend. Solid. Very, very solid. Will go back.

• I recently stumbled upon the end of ‘Casino’ on VH1. That movie is a marathon without commercials, then consider that it’s four hours on VH1. Imagine sitting through that movie, with commercials and every fourth word getting bleeped out, for four hours. Pass.

• Unintended, minor consequence of sports betting becoming widely legalized in the United States: Every Tom, Dick and Harry with a platform has turned into a bookmaker. Sorry, but leave that one to the sharps. That’s why they’re the sharps.

• There was a “Team ‘Saved by the Bell’ or Team ’90210’” thing that went semi-viral on Twitter earlier this week. Dylan McKay is cooler than anyone attending Bayside High School, that’s just a fact.

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