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How much production returns for Utah next year?

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of which 2023 Utah players are returning to school, and which are moving on

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Utah quarterback Cam Rising at a Crimson Collective truck giveaway to scholarship players at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah Utes quarterback Cam Rising attends a Crimson Collective truck giveaway to scholarship players at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. After missing the entire 2023, Rising will return to the Utah lineup in 2024.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The 2024 season is shaping up to be a pivotal year for Utah football.

After struggles at the quarterback position in 2023, Cam Rising returns to get Utah’s offense back on track.

The Utes are in a new conference for the first time since 2011, playing their inaugural season in the Big 12. The College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams in 2024, meaning the Big 12 champion is automatically in, so the stakes are high for the Utes’ first year in the league.

With seven players declaring for the NFL draft, 16 players entering the transfer portal, and four seniors’ eligibility clocks out of time, just how much production do the Utes return for the 2024 season?

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of which 2023 contributors are returning to school, and which are moving on.


Quarterback

It’s the Cam Rising show in 2024, as the Utah quarterback is set to make his much-anticipated return after undergoing surgery in January 2023 to repair his ACL, meniscus, MPFL and MCL and sitting out all of the 2023 campaign.

Aside from Luke Bottari, Rising is the only quarterback with Utah game experience returning, as Nate Johnson and Bryson Barnes entered the transfer portal.

A healthy Rising adds a different dimension to Utah’s offense, and Rising has taken the Utes to new heights as quarterback, leading them to back-to-back Pac-12 titles.

The Utes will look to bring in a transfer portal quarterback — Auburn’s Robby Ashford is a target — to go alongside Brandon Rose and Isaac Wilson.

With Rising as the starter, Utah is in a great position at quarterback.

Production returning in 2024

Cam Rising, QB, senior
2022 stats: 13 starts, 3,034 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 65% completion percentage; 465 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns.

Luke Bottari, QB, senior
2023 stats: Two games (one start), 7 for 11 passing, 64% completion percentage; two rushes for 11 yards and two touchdowns.

Production leaving in 2024

Bryson Barnes, QB, junior
2023 stats: 10 games (eight starts), 1,517 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 59% completion percentage; 267 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns.

Nate Johnson, redshirt freshman
2023 stats: Eight games (three starts), 499 passing yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, 54% completion percentage; 235 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns.


Offensive line

Utah has to replace two of its most productive offensive linemen in starters Keaton Bills and Sataoa Laumea, but return starters Kolinu’u Faaiu, Michael Mokofisi and Spencer Fano, alongside Jaren Kump and Tanoa Togiai, both of whom played at least 355 snaps this year.

Kump and Togiai could slot in as starters on the offensive line, and don’t rule out top-ranked state of Utah recruit Isaiah Garcia, as the offensive line coach showed with Fano that he’ll play the five players he thinks are best, even if they’re true freshmen.

Production returning in 2024

Kolinu’u Faaiu, center, sophomore
2023 stats: 10 games (eight starts), 526 snaps, 63.4 PFF grade.

Michael Mokofisi, guard, sophomore
2023 stats: 13 starts, 834 snaps, 63 PFF grade.

Spencer Fano, tackle, freshman
2023 stats: 13 games (12 starts), 612 snaps, 58.7 PFF grade.

Jaren Kump, center, sophomore
2023 stats: 13 games (six starts), 465 snaps, 61.7 PFF grade.

Tanoa Togiai, tackle, sophomore
2023 stats: 10 games (two starts), 355 snaps, 54.2 PFF grade.

Falcon Kaumatule, tackle, junior
2023 stats: Six games, 86 snaps, 63.6 PFF grade.

Solatoa Moea’i, guard, freshman
2023 stats: Seven games, 56 snaps, 56.8 PFF grade.

Caleb Lomu, tackle, freshman
2023 stats: Three games, 25 snaps, 76.1 PFF grade.

Alex Harrison, guard, junior
2023 stats: One game, 11 snaps, 65.3 PFF grade.

Production leaving in 2024

Keaton Bills, tackle, junior
2023 stats: 12 starts at left guard, 810 snaps, 71.2 PFF grade.

Sataoa Laumea, tackle, junior
2023 stats: 12 starts at right tackle, 803 snaps, 65.4 PFF grade.


Running backs

It will be an interesting year for the running backs room, as lead running back Ja’Quinden Jackson announced his transfer to Arkansas last week.

There’s no clearcut RB1, which will make spring and fall camp interesting, but Micah Bernard and Jaylon Glover will battle for the status, or Utah may split carries fairly evenly between multiple running backs.

Utah has a sizable group of running backs entering the season, including freshman four-star trio Dijon Stanley, John Randle Jr. and Mike Mitchell, and added FCS transfer running back Anthony Woods, who rushed for 1,155 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2023 for Idaho. Chris Curry hasn’t announced yet if he’ll be back, but he has the option to return with a medical redshirt after missing all but two games in the 2023 season.

The Utes lose their most productive back in Jackson, but have plenty of options to replace him. Time will tell which running backs rise to the top.

Production returning in 2024

Jaylon Glover, RB, sophomore
2023 stats: 13 games, 137 carries for 562 yards and two touchdowns; seven catches for 67 yards. 

Micah Bernard, RB, junior
2023 stats: Two games, 16 carries, 76 yards, one touchdown. Missed all but two games this season with an off-the-field injury.

Charlie Vincent, RB, junior
2023 stats: 10 games (one start), nine carries for 48 yards, one touchdown; two catches for 11 yards. 

Dijon Stanley, RB, freshman
2023 stats: Four games, six carries for one yard; three catches for 21 yards.

Daniel Wood, RB, freshman
2023 stats: Six games, five carries for 18 yards.

John Randle Jr., RB, freshman
2023 stats: One game, two carries for three yards.

Question marks for 2024

Chris Curry, RB, senior
2023 stats: Two games, eight carries for 28 yards before suffering season-ending injury. Has an option of a medical redshirt to come back for 2024, but hasn’t officially announced if he is returning.

Production leaving in 2024

Ja’Quinden Jackson, RB, sophomore
2023 stats: 12 starts, 797 yards and four touchdowns on 161 carries while dealing with a season-long ankle injury.

Sione Vaki, S, junior
2023 stats: 317 yards and two touchdowns on 42 rushes.


Wide receivers

This group had one of the biggest offseason shakeups on the team.

After being with Utah since 2019, Devaughn Vele’s decision to go pro was expected, but a surprise came when promising freshman Mikey Matthews decided to transfer. Together, the two combined for 854 receiving yards, a sizable chunk of Utah’s production in 2023.

Utah will return Money Parks and Munir McClain, who combined for 580 yards, and Mycah Pittman, who suffered an early season-ending injury, could also return, but the Utes are looking for receivers in the transfer portal to add to the room.

Players like Sidney Mbanasor and Daidren Zipperer could step up as well, alongside high school signees Zacharyus Williams and David Washington.

Production returning in 2024

Money Parks, WR, junior
2023 stats: 13 starts, 293 yards on 31 catches, two touchdowns.

Munir McClain, WR, junior
2023 stats: 11 games (four starts), 287 yards on 15 catches, two touchdowns.

Luca Caldarella, WR, junior
2023 stats: 13 games (two starts), 31 yards on three catches.

Question marks in 2024

Mycah Pittman, WR, senior
2023 stats: Two games, 20 yards on three catches, season-ending injury two games into the year. Has the option to return to Utah, but hasn’t officially announced yet. I lean toward him returning.

Production leaving in 2024

Devaughn Vele, WR, junior
2023 stats: 10 games (nine starts), 593 yards and three touchdowns on 43 receptions to lead Utah’s receiving corps.

Mikey Matthews, WR, freshman
2023 stats: 12 games (six starts), 29 receptions for 261 yards, 17 punt returns for 75 yards.

Sione Vaki, S, junior
2023 stats: 203 yards and three touchdowns on 11 receptions.

Emery Simmons, WR
2023 stats: Nine games, one reception for two yards.


Tight ends

Auburn transfer Landen King was the feel-good story of this season for the Utes, becoming an instant fan-favorite with his positive attitude and vocal support of the team. He also showed lots of promise at the tight end position with 166 yards and three touchdowns on 14 catches.

King will aim to add 15 to 20 pounds in the offseason, which has been a constant theme throughout the year when talking to Utah’s coaches, but he could be an excellent complement to Brant Kuithe, should Kuithe return in 2024. Plenty of two tight-end sets could be run with King and Kuithe.

Primarily a blocking tight end, Miki Suguturaga will return, with the only loss from this group thus far being Thomas Yassmin.

Production returning in 2024

Landen King, TE, sophomore
2023 stats: 13 games (four starts), 166 yards on 14 catches, three touchdowns.

Miki Suguturaga, TE, junior
2023 stats: 13 games (nine starts), 42 yards on four catches, one touchdown, primarily a blocking tight end.

Dallen Bentley, TE, sophomore
2023 stats: Three games, five yards on one catch.

Question marks

Brant Kuithe, TE, senior
2021 stats (last fully healthy season): 611 yards on 50 catches, six touchdowns.

Kuithe has yet to make an announcement on if he will be returning to Utah after missing the entire 2022 season due to injury rehab, but I lean toward him coming back in 2024.

Production leaving in 2024

Thomas Yassmin, TE, senior
2023 stats: Five games, eight receptions for 89 yards, one touchdown. Suffered season-ending injury on Sept. 29 at Oregon State.


Defensive line

Utah brings back a wealth of experience from this group, but the lone loss is a big one — defensive end Jonah Elliss, who declared for the NFL draft.

Elliss, who earned consensus All-American honors, had a monster year — 37 tackles, 12 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, forced fumble and three pass breakups in 10 games — that sets the individual bar high in 2024.

Defensive ends Logan Fano and Connor O’Toole should be able to contribute at a high level next year, and the Utes return every other starter along the defensive line.

Production returning in 2024

Logan Fano, defensive end, freshman
2023 stats: Five games (three starts), 14 tackles (four for loss), 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one pass breakup.

Connor O’Toole, defensive end, junior
2023 stats: Eight games (five starts), 31 tackles (six for loss), 4.5 sacks, forced fumble, three pass breakups.

Van Fillinger, defensive end, junior
2023 stats: 11 games (eight starts), 31 tackles (five for loss), three sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery.

Keanu Tanuvasa, defensive tackle, redshirt freshman
2023 stats: 13 starts, 27 tackles (six for loss), two sacks, one forced fumble.

Junior Tafuna, defensive tackle, junior
2023 stats: 11 starts, 17 tackles (three for loss), 1.5 sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery, two pass breakups.

Aliki Vimahi, defensive tackle, junior
2023 stats: 12 games, 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks.

Simote Pepa, defensive tackle, sophomore
2023 stats: 10 games (one start), eight tackles.

Gavin Nawahine, defensive end, sophomore
2023 stats: One game, two tackles.

Jonah Lea’ea, defensive end, freshman
2023 stats: One game, two tackles.

Ka’eo Akana, defensive end, redshirt freshman
2023 stats: Four games, one tackle.

Tevita Fotu, defensive tackle, redshirt sophomore
2023 stats: 11 games (two starts), seven tackles, two pass breakups.

Production leaving in 2024

Jonah Elliss, DE.
2023 stats: 10 starts (missed last three games with season-ending injury), 37 tackles, 12 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, forced fumble and three pass breakups.


Linebackers

This should be one of Utah’s most solid groups in 2024, as the Utes bring back all three starters from the 2023 squad.

Lander Barton was having a fantastic year before suffering a season-ending injury against USC, and Karene Reid and Stanford transfer Levani Damuni also had great performances all season.

Utah looks to be set at linebacker next season.

Production returning in 2024

Lander Barton, LB, sophomore
2023 stats: Seven starts before suffering season-ending injury, 34 tackles (0.5 for loss), forced fumble, two interceptions, two pass breakups.

Karene Reid, LB, junior
2023 stats: 11 starts, 67 tackles (two for loss), one interception, four pass breakups

Levani Damuni, LB, junior
2023 stats: 13 games (seven starts), 87 tackles (2.5 for loss), 0.5 sacks,

Sione Fotu, LB, freshman
2023 stats: 11 games. 18 tackles, one pass breakup.

Josh Calvert, LB, junior
2023 stats: Three games, three tackles (one for loss).

Production leaving in 2024

Justin Medlock, LB, redshirt freshman
2023 stats: Three games, seven tackles (one for loss).

Hayden Furey, LB, senior
2023 stats: Four games, eight tackles, forced fumble.


Cornerbacks

Two big contributors left the room this offseason — Miles Battle to the NFL and JaTravis Broughton to TCU — so Utah has some big production to replace in 2024.

It helps that Zemaiah Vaughn, Utah’s best cornerback, is back for 2024, alongside nickel back Tao Johnson. Both were consistent starters for the Utes in 2023. If Johnson plays more safety in 2024, Smith Snowden — who played nickel back in five games this season — should slide into the starting position nicely.

The Utes will have to find another starting outside corner and a rotation player, whether that’s Elijah Davis, CJ Blocker, Michigan transfer Cameron Calhoun, Georgia Tech Kenan Johnson or one of the three high school recruits coming in.

Production returning in 2024

Zemaiah Vaughn, CB, junior
2023 stats: 13 starts, 53 tackles (five for loss), 0.5 sacks, interception, six pass breakups.

Elijah Davis, CB, redshirt freshman
2023 stats: One game, three tackles.

Smith Snowden, CB, freshman
2023 stats: Five games, seven tackles.

Tao Johnson, CB, redshirt freshman
2023 stats: 13 games (12 starts), 33 tackles (1.5 for loss), fumble recovery, five pass breakups.

Production leaving in 2024

Faybian Marks, CB, junior
2023 stats: Three games, two tackles and a pass deflection.

Miles Battle, CB, senior
2023 stats: 13 games (two starts), 32 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, one interception, three pass deflections.

JaTravis Broughton, CB, senior
2023 stats: 11 starts, 37 tackles (one for loss), two pass breakups.


Safeties

The biggest question on Utah’s 2024 defense — how do you replace two safeties that left for the NFL draft?

Jonathan Hall and Nate Ritchie, who played throughout the year (Ritchie started three games and Hall started one) are the favorites to earn the two starting spots, and Utah will look to the transfer portal for more depth.

Utah brings in high school and junior college signees Jeilani Davis and Maurice Evans at the position in 2024.

Production returning in 2024

Johnathan Hall, S, freshman
2023 stats: Six games, 19 tackles, one sack.

Nate Ritchie, S, freshman
2023 stats: 12 games (three starts), 22 tackles (1.5 for loss), one sack.

Production leaving in 2024

Sione Vaki, S, sophomore
2023 stats: 12 starts, 51 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception, three pass breakups.

Cole Bishop, S, junior
2023 stats: 11 games (10 starts), 60 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, three pass breakups.


Kicker

Utah returns its starting kicker, Cole Becker, who was solid last season and alleviated some of the kicking woes from the 2022 squad. Utah will roll with Becker in 2024 and is set at the position.

Production returning in 2024

Cole Becker, K, junior
2023 stats: 10 games, 15 for 18 on field goals, 28 for 28 on PATs; 35 kickoffs for 17 touchbacks.

Joey Cheek, K, redshirt freshman
2023 stats: Three games, 1 for 2 on field goals, 7 for 7 on PATs.

Production leaving in 2024

Chase Carter, K, senior
2023 stats: Seven games, 26 kickoffs, six touchbacks.


Punter

Jack Bouwmeester showed improvement in his second year with Utah, averaging 45.5 yards per punt, which ranks 16th in the nation.

He provided a nice boost to Utah’s special teams in 2023.

Production returning in 2024

Jack Bouwmeester, P, sophomore
2023 stats: 13 games, 55 punts for 2,503 yards (45.5 yard average).


Kick and punt returners

With Mikey Matthews leaving, Utah will have to settle on a new kick and punt returner in 2024. Money Parks and Dijon Stanley have some experience from the 2023 season, alongside Mycah Pittman.

Production returning in 2024

Dijon Stanley, freshman
2023 stats: Two kick returns for 62 yards.  

Money Parks, junior.
2023 stats: Two punt returns for three yards.

Question marks in 2024

Mycah Pittman, senior
2023 stats: Five punt returns for 33 yards.

Production leaving in 2024

Mikey Matthews, freshman
2023 stats: 15 kick returns for 309 yards and 17 punt returns for 75 yards. 

Devaughn Vele, junior
2023 stats: One kick returns for 21 yards.

Utah Utes coach Kyle Whittingham watches from the sideline as Utah and Northwestern play in the Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023. Northwestern won 14-7.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham watches from the sideline as Utah and Northwestern play in the Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023. Northwestern won 14-7. Whittingham will guide his team into its first season in the Big 12 this fall.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News