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Utah football notebook: Kyle Whittingham hints Cam Rising’s readiness for Week 1 could be tight, says Utah is catching up with ‘blue-blood schools’ in NIL

Whittingham also gives thoughts on Deion Sanders and talks expectations for 2023.

(Lucas Peltier | AP) Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham speaks at the NCAA college football Pac-12 media day Friday, July 21, 2023, in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas • Kyle Whittingham spent the past seven months assuring anyone who would listen that Cam Rising would be ready for Utah’s season-opener against Florida.

It makes sense. Utah’s season largely rests on the health of its quarterback.

But with just over a month before Aug. 31, Whittingham is now showing at least a little doubt about Rising’s readiness.

“When you look at the timetable, when he is going to be cleared, or projected to be cleared, is coming right down to the wire,” Utah’s head coach said.

It is the first time Whittingham has publicly acknowledged Rising will be pushing an ACL recovery to be ready. Rising tore his ACL in January during the Rose Bowl. To play in Week 1, he would be less than nine months post-surgery. That timeline also discounts the amount of fall camp Rising would need to participate in not just to be healthy, but also game-ready.

Whittingham largely skirted giving a firm answer on how many practices Rising needs in order to be named the starter.

“Well, he is going to be able to participate early on [during camp] in limited fashion,” Whittingham said. “He’s been throwing for several weeks. We will just rely on the medical staff to give us more perameters [on what he can do] and stay within them. We have already been told, barring any setbacks between now and camp, that he’ll be able to do a bunch of stuff during camp and then continue to add to that if everything goes as planned.”

As for Rising, he maintained he is on track to play. However, he did acknowledge he’ll need at least some reps during fall camp to feel confident in his knee.

“Going against [Utah’s] defense is going to be a big tell in just seeing how I feel,” he said.

Rising shot down any potential of him playing Week 1 less than 100%. He noted he wouldn’t go into a game trying not to run in order to protect himself. It puts more emphasis in him being a full participant, or close to it, in camp.

“Doing every single movement there is, every type of throw [in practice],” Rising said. “Trying to be ready to make sure [the knee is good]. Because come game time you never know what movements you’re going to make. Making sure whatever situation I’m put in, my body will be ready to go.”

Whittingham also cautioned against rushing him back if he can’t play his normal style.

“We certainly don’t want to put him out there prematurely or before he’s ready,” he said. “Which I’m sure [the medical staff] won’t do…. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Cam. But that’s not our call. That’s between Cam and the medical staff to determine when he’s ready.”

The other quarterbacks on Utah’s roster are junior Bryson Barnes, redshirt freshmen Brandon Rose and Nate Johnson, and freshman Mack Howard. In spring practices, Rose appeared to have an edge to be Rising’s backup.

Utah picking up the mantle and Whittingham’s thoughts on Deion

The Pac-12 is in an awkward place at the moment. The typical standard-bearers, USC and UCLA, are leaving the conference after this season. It leaves a vacant spot in who will be the face of the conference.

Oregon is obviously a major player. But if media day was any indicator, it looks like Utah might also step into a bigger role in being a public voice on issues around the league.

Utah athletic director Mark Harlan has already been outspoken several times in talking about the media rights deal. And Whittingham was also surprisingly candid in answering questions about the conference.

“The commissioner is a great leader, he’s the right guy to be forging ahead for this conference to continue,” Whittingham said. “Obviously waiting for the TV deal to come out. It’s going to be good. I don’t have any insight. But we’re here. We’re going to be pleased.”

It makes sense for people to look toward Utah as a face of the league. The Utes have won back-to-back football championships and gone to two Rose Bowls. Whittingham is one of the most tenured coaches in the country. Utah’s voice is going to be leaned on more now.

Naturally, people wanted to know what Whittingham thought of the conference’s biggest football story: Deion Sanders. Sanders has dramatically overhauled Colorado’s roster in his first offseason, cutting nearly 75% of the scholarship players on the team.

“I met him for the first time during spring meetings,” Whittingham said. “Great guy, very personable obviously. Had a conversation with him. It is very interesting what he is doing obviously. With the rules structured as they are, and the program in the state it was in, why wouldn’t you try something like that? It makes sense.”

College Football Playoff?

Whittingham started his day in Las Vegas by saying he “could not care” about Utah being picked third in the Pac-12 preseason poll.

But he did spend time litigating why Rising was left off the all-conference lists. USC’s Caleb Williams, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon’s Bo Nix were all picked ahead of Rising.

“It is the conference of quarterbacks without a doubt,” Whittingham said. “Just for an example, our guy, Cam Rising, who led us to the last two Pac-12 championships, is not even honorable mention, which is crazy to me. That speaks to the level of quarterbacks we have in the league. No disrespect to the guys that are the preseason guys because they’re very deserving.”

Rising stayed out of the fray saying, “it is what it is” when asked about being left off.

Instead, Rising focused on Utah’s expectations this season. Whittingham did as well — naming both the Pac-12 championship and college football playoff as benchmarks.

“Nobody has ever three-peated in the Pac-12,” Whittingham said. “That’s one thing right there that we can accomplish that has not been done. Still not made it to the College Football Playoff. That’s something else we’re looking at. There’s a lot of things that we have yet to accomplish at Utah.”

Whittingham says Utah is ‘gaining on blue-blood schools’ with NIL

Utah recently started a football NIL collective called the Crimson Collective. It just named its first CEO, Kyle Brennan — who resigned from his last job as the athletic director at Illinois State amid reports that he misallocated donor funds.

Brennan told The Salt Lake Tribune that he spoke with Whittingham multiple times before he accepted the job and that Whittingham suggested he apply for it.

Now as the collective is a few months old, Whittingham said he is pleased where NIL is heading.

“Right now we feel like we have really good momentum in the NIL space,” Whittingham said. “We got a collective we launched a few months ago that is really doing well. So I think where we are right now is a very competitive place relative to the rest of the country. Now there’s always those blue-blood schools that have far more resources. But I think we are gaining on them.”

Whittingham followed saying NIL was the “most important thing” in college football.

“With many recruits it is the first thing that comes up,” he said. “It is becoming more and more prevalent as time has gone on. More and more recruits are more interested in that than any other aspect.”