TribUte newsletter: Utah’s backup quarterback battle raises concerns about the Utes’ future at the position

Walk-on Bryson Barnes will backup Cam Rising in Saturday night’s opener at Florida, followed by Ja’Quinden Jackson at QB3.

(Utah Athletics) Utes quarterback Cam Rising, middle, has been the clear cut leader at Utah's spring practices. How far the Utes go in 2022 will rest on the quarterback's shoulders.

Gainesville, Fla. • My early-morning cross-country flight to Florida hadn’t yet cleared the state of Colorado when my mind began wandering toward Utah football Thursday morning.

Here’s what happens when you’re up at 3 a.m. with your 6-month old, you’re on a 7 a.m. flight, and you’re in need of a second cup of coffee: Bryson Barnes earned the right to step into the Rose Bowl after Cam Rising was injured. He earned the right during the spring and summer to open the season Saturday night at QB2, outdueling Ja’Quinden Jackson for the responsibility. That said, I contend that Utah is staring at a bit of a big-picture quarterback issue.

We last explored this topic, life inside Utah’s QB room beyond Cam Rising, six months ago, but let’s do it again in light of recent developments.

Jackson, a former four-star recruit and a legitimate dual-threat with improved throwing mechanics, was bypassed at some point last season by Barnes, a walk-on from Milford High School, a fact that came to light during the Rose Bowl. Barnes then outdueled Jackson for QB2 duties for at least the Florida game. And unless something unexpected happens, it doesn’t feel like Barnes is going to be in a position to lose that job.

With that, a series of questions predicated on nobody transferring, which is never a lock:

• Jackson has never competed to be the starter. In his time at Utah, it’s been Cam Rising vs. Charlie Brewer, and Rising as the unquestioned incumbent. Are we getting Barnes vs. Jackson next spring, assuming Rising does not come back for a sixth year?

• Should Kyle Whittingham go back to the NCAA Transfer Portal for help? The answer is absolutely yes, he should, but we can save that topic for another day.

• Is Nate Johnson going to get a shot at the job? The four-star true freshman out of Clovis, Calif. has received positive reviews from Whittingham in running the scout team, which is invaluable experience for a true freshman waiting in the wings. FYI, Utah has not started a quarterback it recruited out of high school since 2019 when Tyler Huntley started in the Alamo Bowl to finish his career.

Yes, I understand these problems are seven months away. We now return to your regularly-scheduled quarterback programming, Rising presiding over the most-important opener in the history of Utah football.

Other things on my mind

• Forget the fact he essentially saved last season, forget losing a QB competition to Charlie Brewer, forget the fact he blew out his shoulder in the 2020 opener. Let me tell you what I started thinking about the other day in relation to Rising. Spring practice in 2020 was halted on a dime, as was Rising vs. Jake Bentley for QB1, while Utah was on spring break thanks to the onset of COVID-19. If COVID never happens, that season starts on time, and Rising still beats out Bentley for the job. I think that 2020 was going to at least challenge at the top of the Pac-12 South, but we’ll never know. Conversely, if 2020 gets played under normal conditions, 2021 doesn’t play out as it did, and I’m pretty sure no Utah fan is willing to trade what 2021 gave them.

• I enjoy learning how basketball and football schedules come together. Sometimes, it’s a great backstory, sometimes it’s as simple as happenstance, which is how Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin described this Utah-Florida series to me recently. It also didn’t hurt that Stricklin and Utah AD Mark Harlan are friends, dating back to at least the latter’s time as the AD at South Florida several years back.

• The biggest football-related factor on my mind at this point is how Utah’s offensive line will play. Keaton Bills (LG) and Sataoa Laumea (RG) are incumbent starters. New left tackle Braeden Daniels started all 14 games last season between left guard and right tackle. Jaren Kump is back from season-ending injury to play right tackle, Paul Maile is a bit green in taking over for Nick Ford at center, but he’s played the position before and is entering his fourth year in the program. Brass tacks: This is a veteran group, and it came out of camp healthy. There is no shallow end, no tuneup against Weber State to figure things out. There is no time for the slow start that marred the first month of last season. It has to happen immediately.

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