The message from the Utah football program during the offseason was that Utah quarterback Cam Rising might be close to a return by the Aug. 31 opener against Florida.

At Pac-12 media day, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that “Cam is going to come right down to the wire” in terms of being ready for the opener.

“Will he be ready for the opener? We’ll have to find out,” Whittingham said.

As fall camp opened on July 31, Whittingham said Rising was “right on schedule” in terms of his rehab.

As fall camp progressed though, the longtime Utah coach seemed to pull back a little, saying that Rising was “limited” in practice.

Rising, who has yet to make his season debut, was cleared to practice without limitations after the Florida game, and his status since then has been week to week, with the decision on whether he is playing each week left up to Rising’s surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

We now know that Rising didn’t just tear his ACL, but also tore his meniscus, MPFL and MCL as well, as Rising shared last week on ESPN 700.

After a January surgery, a player returning from just an ACL tear and playing in a game in seven months was very unlikely, but technically possible — Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers played in a game six months after suffering a torn ACL. But when you add in the meniscus, MPFL and MCL, the timeline of returning by Aug. 31 seemed unrealistic.

Perhaps Whittingham making it clear from the start that Rising’s injury was more severe than just an ACL tear and that he was not likely to play in the first month of Utah’s season would have been better for all involved, from Rising to Utah’s fans.

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But there’s no injury mandate from the NCAA or the Pac-12 like there is in the NFL. College football coaches will use every advantage possible, though if opposing teams have had to prepare for both Rising and Nate Johnson, it certainly hasn’t made a difference on the field, as Utah’s injured offense has been anemic without Rising.

So even though Utah will presumably find out from ElAttrache Monday if Rising is cleared or not for Saturday’s contest vs. Cal, that will remain under wraps.

“If somebody can give me one reason why it would help us win more to announce it, then I’ll tell you everything. But I can’t think of one thing. If you think of one thing, let me know because I’d be excited to hear it,” Whittingham said.

Given the severity of Rising’s injury and the timeline to return, some fans wondered why Utah didn’t bring in a transfer quarterback this offseason. Players enter the transfer portal for a variety of reasons, but a common one is to find more playing time. Perhaps a transfer quarterback would have found playing time early on at Utah this season, but as soon as Rising was back, that player would have likely been benched.

“Did we? No,” Whittingham said when asked if Utah pursued a transfer quarterback.

“We were expecting that we’d be set and I don’t know who we could have attracted knowing that Cam was coming back. ... Who’s going to come sit behind Cam? If you’re in the portal, you’re in the portal to go play somewhere, not sit again. ... That was not an ideal situation for really any quarterback to come to us this past offseason.”

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Rising had been splitting reps with Johnson 50-50 ahead of the Oregon State game, something Whittingham thought had “no factor” in Johnson’s performance. That rep split will change this week if Rising is not cleared to play against Cal and Utah will invest all the snaps in the quarterbacks that are playing, namely Johnson.

“Now I say all the snaps, there’s still ways to work Cam into practice without diluting what the other guys are doing. There’s different drills and things that he can participate in if it comes to that,” Whittingham said.

If Rising is out, it’s Brandon Rose or Luke Bottari behind Johnson with Bryson Barnes still out from a hit he took against Oregon State that sent him to the hospital. Rose was the favorite for the backup job after spring camp, but was injured in a fall scrimmage. He’s available to play Saturday, per Whittingham, but has missed a lot of time.

“He’s missed six, seven weeks. That’s a big chunk of time to miss and try to come back and get caught up,” Whittingham said.

Utah quarterback Cam Rising warms up before a game against Weber State, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
Utah quarterback Cam Rising warms up before a game against Weber State, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City. Rising has yet to play this season due to injuries. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
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