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In consecutive years, the University of Utah has mined the NCAA Transfer Portal for quarterbacks and wound up with two Power Five graduate transfers: South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Baylor’s Charlie Brewer.
Neither Bentley, nor Brewer panned out, the latter benched against San Diego State last week, losing his job to Cam Rising, and subsequently leaving the program on Tuesday in an effort to preserve his final season of eligibility. The Brewer situation dominated the week of chatter as the Utes prepare to open Pac-12-play Saturday afternoon against Washington State at Rice-Eccles Stadium (12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
As this situation unfolded in the days that followed, there has been some talk that Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham should stop using the transfer portal for quarterbacks, or at least stop taking on graduate transfers. Those players are eligible immediately, but usually with just one season left to play, leads them to be painted by some as short-term mercenaries.
Again, that is low-hanging hot-take fruit and, frankly, unreasonable given that the portal is there to be used for teams in need, not just at quarterback, but at any position.
Whittingham has rightly embraced the transfer portal, and he should keep doing that. You don’t stop traveling the best-available road for veteran talent, and you certainly don’t stop traveling the best-available road for immediately-eligible veteran talent. Furthermore, if you’re among the Utah fans pointing to Bentley and Brewer as reasons Utah should not go to the portal for quarterbacks, well, you’re guilty of revisionist history.
Time for a history lesson.
After the 2019 season, Tyler Huntley’s last at Utah, the program’s quarterback situation for 2020 was as follows: third-year freshman Cam Rising, seldom-used fifth-year senior Drew Lisk, and that’s essentially it. Even if Whittingham believed Rising was the guy, he had to at least make him earn it, so he hit the portal and wound up with Bentley, who started 33 games and threw for 7,500 yards and 54 touchdowns at an SEC school. Rising won the job, was lost for the season in the opener, and Bentley started the last four games.
Bentley did not play well, but again, he didn’t win the job initially, Rising did. It’s hard to crush Whittingham for that. In my opinion, he is a victim of circumstance here.
After the 2020 season, Bentley opted for the portal, Rising faced a long rehab from the injury to his throwing shoulder, and Lisk was not going to be back for a sixth year. At a bare minimum, Whittingham had to fill the quarterbacks room, so he went out and got commitments from Brewer and Texas transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson within a day of the season ending.
Brewer had a prolific career at Baylor, throwing for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns in four seasons. Whittingham has painted a picture of offering no hesitation when he learned of Brewer entering the portal, nor should he have. Hindsight is always 20/20, and still, Whittingham should have been all over Brewer 10 times out of 10 given the previous four seasons, but especially 2019 when Brewer steered the Bears to the Big 12 championship game and the Sugar Bowl.
Rising was at full health for the start of fall camp, but Brewer beat him out for the job after a competition Whittingham called “neck-and-neck.” He said a big deciding factor was Brewer’s experience, which I argued in this space during the middle of camp should come into play if the competition was legitimately close.
If you want to argue Rising should have started from the jump, well, first of all, you didn’t see one second of camp and neither did I. Saying Rising should have started immediately is one thing, but to say Whittingham should have never taken Brewer in the first place is illogical and without a reasonable defense.
It’s been a long week, but there’s a football game being played on Saturday, and I think after the week it’s been, we can all use it, including me, your hard-working, ink-stained wretch of a beat reporter.
What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise
• There is no longer an ‘OR’ separating the four running backs. It’s Micah Bernard’s deal, and rightfully so as the third-year freshman is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, 6.8 yards per touch, and leads the team in yards from scrimmage by a mile. The big surprise at this point is Tavion Thomas not cracking the two-deep this week, even with the two lost fumbles. Thomas might have the most talent among the four, but Bernard has the most juice and T.J. Pledger (RB2) appears set for an increased role.
• It got shuffled away in the middle of the Brewer craziness, but don’t discount the fact that Utah is down two defensive starters for the season, redshirt defensive tackle Viane Moala and All-Pac-12 sophomore cornerback JT Broughton. The loss of Broughton is not small, but Faybian Marks is capable as he slides in at that outside spot. The loss of Moala feels bigger because he was the anchor of that unit. All eyes now on Junior Tafuna, who appears set to start his first career game on Saturday, while Devin Kaufusi is at the other tackle spot. Utah’s normally-stout rushing defense has not been good, for what it’s worth.
• Get the ball to Covey. I can’t stress that enough.
• Collin Chandler is visiting Stanford this weekend. That’s a thing. Chandler, a Farmington High School star and now a top-40 recruiting nationally in the class of 2022, is visiting Utah during Halloween weekend. That’s also a thing. Expect a decision before his senior season begins.
• Ah, USC. Kedon Slovis got hurt at Washington State, Jaxson Dart came in and went nuts in a Trojans win, but he is now also hurt, so instead of a quarterback competition this week, USC is back to Slovis whether it likes it or not. Dart, though, looks like the future at the position for the Trojans, but we’ll see what the new head coach has to say about it.
• Basketball is upon us. I’m down.
Q: “Has Charlie Brewer absolutely torched his chances of ever playing football again?” -- @coreyc04
A: Assuming Brewer eventually winds up back in the transfer portal and wants to play college football next season, he will surely play college football season.
Make no mistake, the optics of Brewer leaving in the manner he did are quite terrible, but that will not be a deterrent. Programs are still going to get in line for his services. He didn’t get arrested, he didn’t do anything illegal, no one said publicly this week he was a bad teammate, Covey even went out of his way to say Brewer was a good teammate. He comes from a good family, he’ll be fine.
I got this question a lot this week. I get it, but no, Brewer will play again.
Q: “How many senior QB transfers have really been successful in just one year at their new team?” -- @chikalenys
A: The immediate examples that come to mind are Russell Wilson in his one year at Wisconsin and Jalen Hurts in his one year at Oklahoma. Joe Burrow went from Ohio State to LSU as a graduate transfer, but he spent two years in Baton Rouge, not one.
It is hard to pull off the graduate transfer thing as a quarterback. You’re entering a new system under a new coaching staff and you have roughly seven months before camp starts and you’re in the middle of a quarterback competition.
Wilson and Hurts were elite-level talents at their first stops. We didn’t quite know what Burrow was until he left Ohio State and got a chance at LSU. These are extreme examples, but proof that one-year guys can find success in new surroundings.
Those are extreme examples, and there is ample evidence of one-year guys either not panning out or not having comparable success to their first stop. That said, coaches are not going to stop taking on graduate transfers, mostly because the experience factor a lot of them bring is hard to ignore.
Brewer started 39 games for a Power Five program across four seasons. Experience like that isn’t the norm in the transfer portal, so as I noted above, Whittingham wasn’t wrong for taking on Brewer.
Q: “Is a house cleaning needed like at USC? It’s been, what, ten years in the Pac-12 and no championship still? We’ve had the team(s) to get one. Then two bowl game losses in a row as well.” -- @801ShAkE
A: Are you serious with this? I’ll go in order here.
Kyle Whittingham is not getting fired. His latest contract extension has him tied up through 2027. He is going to retire as Utah’s head coach and when he does, he immediately takes on a role as special assistant to the athletic director. Depending on if/when he retires as coach, Whittingham could be connected to the athletic department through as late as 2034. Settle in.
Let me make sure I have this right. You think winning the Pac-12 within a decade of moving in from the Mountain West is reasonable? It’s not. Had Utah won a Pac-12 championship game already, it would have been a monumental achievement and only bolstered the argument to erect a statue of Whittingham outside Rice-Eccles.
I might be willing to give you the fact that Utah has had the teams, plural, to get a Pac-12 title, but that argument feels light to me. Sure, 2019, but what’s the other one? 2018? That was a bad year for the South Division, so 6-3 was good enough to win it outright.
OK, whatever. I’ll give you that last one, but the first two go to me. I win, 2-1. Try harder next time.
Q: “What’s the coaching staff’s confidence in the backups behind Rising? With the way the O-line has been playing, I’m very worried about Rising finishing the season healthy.” -- @Anzures801
A: I don’t know that the staff’s confidence level in Ja’Quinden Jackson, whatever it may be, really counts for much. Brewer leaving puts the staff in a very tough spot. Rising is the starter, Jackson is the backup, period. That’s the situation, there is no other legitimate option out there.
Sight unseen, I think Jackson is capable, but I don’t know how ready he is to step in and run this offense should something happen to Rising. With Rising starting, the play of the offensive line and keeping him healthy comes under an even brighter spotlight.
For what it’s worth, Rising has 40 career pass attempts, which is 40 more than Jackson and second-year walk-on sophomore Bryson Barnes, who will continue to serve as QB3.