What was top of mind for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham as the Utes opened fall camp on Monday?

Asked what the biggest focus during fall camp outside of quarterback is, Whittingham answered “quarterback.”

“I can’t think of anything close to that right now,” he said.

The health of starting quarterback Cameron Rising, along with the backup quarterback battle, is priority No. 1 for Whittingham as he enters his 19th year at the helm of the program.

Whittingham said that Rising, who suffered an ACL injury in the third quarter of Utah’s Rose Bowl loss to Penn State, is “right on schedule” in the rehab process.

“He’s practicing but he’ll have limitations. That’ll pretty much be the report for at least a couple weeks — practicing with limitations,” Whittingham said on Monday.

Right now, Rising is just working on mechanics, footwork and throwing as he eases into fall camp. He won’t be put in a situation where he has to perform sudden movements, react to a defender and, of course, he won’t be hit.

“Hopefully some of those limitations start to get lifted as we get deeper into camp, but today was a good start and we just got to be intelligent about it. We have a great medical staff. I’m sure they’ll do exactly what’s right for him.”

Though Rising seems to be on track to start in Utah’s high-profile opener vs. Florida at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Aug. 31, the decision will be up to him and the medical staff.

Meanwhile, the backup quarterback battle takes on new importance if Rising is unable to go to start the season.

In spring camp, redshirt freshman Rose separated himself from the other contenders — Nate Johnson and Bryson Barnes.

“They’re all picking up where they left off in spring. Brandon came out of spring slightly ahead of the other guys,” Whittingham said.

“He’s taking the No. 2 reps right now and actually a lot of the No. 1 reps that Cam can’t take depending on what drill we’re in. Nate doing a nice job and Bryson Barnes is doing a nice job. So those three guys are going to continue to compete until we can confidently separate them.”

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Rose went 19 for 24, 233 yards and a touchdown in Utah’s spring game.

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Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is impressed with the work the quarterbacks have put in over the summer.

“I think it’s been an excellent summer of preparation. We’re around a lot in June and have, we call ‘em OTAs on the board sessions with the players, have meetings with the players in June,” Ludwig said.

“In July, the players pretty much take it over as that’s time the coaches go on vacation. They’re with the strength coach doing the strength and conditioning, but all the football portion of it falls on player-led workouts and all the reports have been outstanding and again, you’re just anxious to see that show up on the practice field today.”

Running back Chris Curry is cleared for practice, while Ludwig said tight end Brant Kuithe is “not as far along in terms of clearance as Curry.”

“He’s not cleared yet by any means as far as 100%. He’s able to do a few things. Today was predominantly weight room stuff. As soon as they give us the green light, we’ll start to work him in as well, Whittingham said.

Kuithe suffered an ACL injury in September against Arizona State and Curry was lost for the season in September against San Diego State. The star tight end will return to his featured role in the offense. In 2021, he had 50 receptions for 611 yards and six touchdowns.

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said safety Nate Ritchie and defensive end Van Fillinger are good to go, while defensive ends coach Lewis Powell said that Jonah Elliss “looks good right now and he’s healthy.”

Of course, there’s no escaping realignment, which is back in the forefront of everyone’s minds after Colorado left the Pac-12 for the Big 12

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Like he’s said before, Whittingham said on Monday that he sees college football going to “superconferences” in the future.

“I thought it’s been trending that way for about 10 years. That’s my impression and my opinion. I think each year we take another step towards that and I think it’s inevitable. The timetable, who knows, three years, five years, seven years, but I believe that’s the direction that things are headed.

But for right now, all Whittingham can control is getting his team ready for the last season in this configuration in the Pac-12 as the Utes try to three-peat for the first time in the Pac-12 era.

“A three-peat would be great. No one’s ever done that in the Pac-12. We haven’t been to the CFP (College Football Playoff) yet. There’s a lot of things that we have not accomplished that would be a big step for our program and those two right at the forefront,” Whittingham said.

University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham talks to members of the media.
University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham talks to members of the media outside of the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center after practice in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 31, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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