Keep an eye on these freshmen, Utah football fans

The TribUte newsletter: Thoughts media access, the Big Ten’s new media rights deal, and more.

We’re two weeks away from the season-opener at Florida.

The heat is getting cranked up.

Here’s a quick, probably incomplete list of true freshmen that could play a tangible role for the Utes this fall based on what coaches and players have said so far in fall camp:

Lander Barton The four-star freshman and crown jewel of Utah’s latest recruiting class, Barton is in line to play a significant amount of snaps, if not start at Florida. If we assume Mo Diabate starts at one linebacker spot, it’s Barton and Karene Reid right now for that second spot.

Jaylon Glover Another much-hyped, four-star freshman at running back, it has been clear for a while Glover will be in line for touches from the outset. How Utah chooses to dispense him will be of interest with the bulk of carries going to Tavion Thomas, and Micah Bernard standing as a veteran option, not to mention Utah’s best pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Tao Johnson — The situation at slot receiver to replace Britain Covey had been fluid going back to spring practice. While third-year sophomore Money Parks has steadily moved securing that assignment for the opener, Johnson’s name has come up enough in interviews with the coaching staff that it’s difficult to ignore at this point. He has also come up as a special teams option with punt and kick return duties up in the air

Chase Kennedy — Keep an eye on Kennedy, a three-star defensive end who Morgan Scalley has pumped up on more than one occasion.

Justin Medlock — The linebacker room is a little green, but also maybe the most talented room within the defense. Enter Medlock, who has impressed and while there may not be enough space for him to crack the two-deep, he at least feels like a safe bet to crack the travel roster, which is a huge positive for any true freshmen.

Nate JohnsonMaybe Johnson doesn’t belong on this list. But while he’s not ready to step into QB3, he is very athletic, very versatile, and Kyle Whittingham has said positive things, so why can’t he get tossed in there in a short-yardage, Wildcat-type of situation?

B1G with a B

We all saw the Big Ten’s new seven-year media rights agreements with Fox, CBS, NBC, Peacock and FS1, which is worth roughly $8 billion over the life of the deal. The Big Ten contract has an escalator, which would push the total value of the deal to approximately $10 billion if its membership expands.

Regardless of whether or not it ever lands Notre Dame, one realistic scenario would see the Big Ten come back this way and try to poach more Pac-12 schools. At a minimum, that would alleviate some potential travel/scheduling conundrums associated with UCLA and USC coming aboard in 2024.

All eyes are now on the Pac-12, which is next to market for a new media rights deal, one that is very likely to see ESPN end up with the primary rights.

It’s going to be an interesting month.

Who is QB2?

Without the benefit of being able to watch Ja’Quinden Jackson and Bryson Barnes vie to be Cam Rising’s backup, if you listen to Whittingham closely enough and maybe read between the lines, it has felt for a while like things are tilting towards Jackson, a third-year sophomore who has yet to throw a collegiate pass. Too much athleticism, too much ability, too much intrigue, too high a ceiling. I’ll be surprised if it’s not Jackson.

O-line questions

There was no major position battle going into camp, and of the ones that have taken place, most of them feel like they have worked themselves out.

On Monday, we had Whittingham and offensive line coach Jim Harding soft-selling two or three spots still up for grabs up front.

Two things here. One, at left guard, Whittingham has been high for a long time on Michael Mokofisi, but Keaton Bills has started 12 of the last 17 games in that spot. The opener is Florida, not a Big Sky school. If they think it’s Mokofisi as a first-time starter, do it, but be sure. Two, a similar, but more intriguing situation has developed at right tackle, where Jaren Kump has been the presumed starter, but is coming off knee surgery and is shaking off the rust. Falcon Kaumatule, all 6-foot-8, 300 pounds of him has drawn praise from Whittingham and Harding. Kaumatule would also be a first-time starter.

Media access

Media access at Utah fall camp has been quite limited this month, certainly more so than last August. We don’t get to watch any portion of practice (not a new thing, for what it’s worth).

We’ve had just six face-to-face opportunities for player interviews, three opportunities with Whittingham, and two each with the offensive and defensive coordinators, and Zoom interviews with the rest of the assistant coaches earlier this week. The two each with the two coordinators within the first 13 days of camp is actually a lot in my opinion, but I digress.

All of this likely speaks to the desire to keep things tight, keep things focused, keep distractions to a minimum with a, let’s call what it is, massively important opener coming on Sept. 3, but it makes it a lot harder for the media to do its respective jobs.

Whittingham noting on Monday that he is unlikely to release a depth chart on the Monday of game week has been the highlight of this topic for me. Releasing the two-deep publicly to open game week is customary, but absolutely not mandated by the NCAA or the Pac-12.