Quarterback Charlie Brewer’s abrupt departure from the University of Utah on Tuesday cemented what may have been inevitable anyway: the Cam Rising era has begun.
Barring something unforeseen, Rising, a fourth-year sophomore, entered the weekend a mortal lock to start the remainder of the Utes’ season.
A midseason quarterback change can shake the core of a program, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Goals of winning the Pac-12 South, winning the Pac-12 championship game and getting to a Rose Bowl are still attainable with Rising at the wheel. Beyond that, it is worth examining what Utah’s quarterback situation looks like past 2021.
There has been no indication that this will be Rising’s final college season, but that possibility is at least worth mentioning given he is currently in his fourth year of college. With two more seasons of eligibility beginning in 2022, a more plausible scenario is that Rising returns for at least 2022 as a fifth-year junior. The question now is: Have the Utes found a long-term answer at quarterback?
However this season shakes out, there are currently options behind Rising that should yield more than a passing thought from Whittingham and third-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
Taking into account all of the quarterbacks currently on the roster behind Rising, the most intriguing one is four-star freshman Peter Costelli, the crown jewel of Whittingham’s latest recruiting class. That intrigue is partially because of Costelli’s talent, but also because his current status is steeped in mystery.
On Aug. 30, three days before Utah opened its season, Whittingham said he intended to redshirt Costelli. That statement didn’t raise any eyebrows because under NCAA guidelines, a player can play in up to four games and still maintain the year of eligibility. If Costelli were to play more than four games, it means something dire happened above him on the depth chart.
All of that said, Costelli has yet to even dress for a game. With Brewer gone, there is one less quarterback in Costelli’s way, but Whittingham on Tuesday called the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) star “doubtful” to dress for Washington State. Second-year freshman dual-threat Ja’Quinden Jackson will serve as Rising’s backup, while second-year walk-on freshman Bryson Barnes, who saw mop-up action vs. Weber State, will remain No. 3.
Jackson is another legitimate option if Whittingham decides to open things up beyond Rising come springtime. Like Rising, Jackson is a former four-star recruit who spent his freshman season at Texas before transferring to Utah. Like Brewer, Jackson had a monstrous high school pedigree, throwing for over 3,600 yards, rushing for over 2,500 more, and accounting for 81 touchdowns in three seasons at perennial Texas state championship contender Duncanville High School.
Jackson has yet to appear in a game as a collegian, which makes the short-term quarterback situation at Utah a little unnerving.
Rising at No. 2 behind Brewer was viewed as a significant plus, because if Whittingham had to go to Rising, he was going to a quarterback in his third season with the program, not to mention his third season with the same offensive coordinator.
Rising may have been viewed as a good, dependable No. 2, but the fact of the matter is, he does not have a ton of game experience, and the options behind him have even less.
For his career, Rising had appeared in three games coming into this weekend and had attempted all of 40 passes. Those 40 pass attempts, though, are 40 more than any of the options behind him. If something happens to Rising, who won the job out of fall camp in 2020 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury on the 14th offensive snap of the opener, Utah will be entering the true unknown given Jackson has never taken a collegiate snap.
For what it’s worth, Whittingham said Tuesday afternoon that Jackson looked sharp in what was his first fully padded practice as the backup.
PROJECTED 2022 UTAH QUARTERBACK DEPTH
Cam Rising (fifth-year junior)
Ja’Quinden Jackson (redshirt freshman OR true sophomore)
Peter Costelli (redshirt freshman)
Bryson Barnes (walk-on redshirt freshman)
Nate Johnson (true freshman)
Brandon Rose (true freshman)