SALT LAKE CITY — Tyler Huntley’s graduation and Jason Shelley’s position switch and ultimate decision to enter the transfer portal have altered the landscape for Utah at quarterback.
The cupboard, though, is far from bare.
Utah has eligible transfers from South Carolina and Texas to help man the position in 2020. Jake Bentley, who started all 33 games he played at South Carolina, signed with the Utes as a graduate transfer in December. Redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising, who began his career at Texas, spent the past year gaining residency and practicing with the team. He’s now eligible to play in games.
“We know Jake has made us better and it should be a great competition,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who acknowledged that Rising may have a leg up having had a year in offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s system. Whittingham noted, however, that Rising may be a bit rusty having not played in a game last season. That was countered though by extensive reps gained as the Utes prepared for the Alamo Bowl.
“The bowl experience in practice that he got was invaluable,” Whittingham said. “It was huge.”
So, too, were the numbers Bentley posted over three seasons with the Gamecocks. He threw for 7,527 yards and 55 touchdowns. In 2018, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound QB set a school record by throwing for a record 510 yards and five TDs against eventual national champion Clemson.
“Jake is a big addition for us. In today’s world, with the portal and how things are changing, the quarterback room can change dramatically from year to year. That is the position that undergoes the most change,” Whittingham said after announcing Utah’s early signees. “We are excited to have Jake in the room. He has a big arm and is more of a pro-style guy.”
Whittingham said Ludwig got a chance to see Bentley, who is already enrolled at the U., in the SEC during his coaching tenure at Vanderbilt and really liked him. When Bentley entered the transfer portal, the Utes went to work on getting him.
“He came out on a visit, loved it and committed on the visit,” Whittingham said. “So, we are excited he is going to be joining us.”
Rising moved up the pecking order during bowl prep, moving up behind Huntley after being declared eligible to play in the game. Shelley’s move to safety also opened things up for more reps in practice.
In addition to Bentley and Rising, Utah’s quarterback room includes senior Drew Lisk and freshman signee Cooper Justice, a high school standout from Oregon.
“Jake is a big addition for us. In today’s world, with the portal and how things are changing, the quarterback room can change dramatically from year to year. That is the position that undergoes the most change. We are excited to have Jake in the room. He has a big arm and is more of a pro-style guy.” — Kyle Whittingham
“The quarterback position is unique and it has become more unique in the last three years with the addition of the portal,” Whittingham said. “A lot of teams pick up their quarterback out of the portal now and it is a one-and-done type of deal, so yes, we wanted to recruit a quarterback and try to balance it out.”
Whittingham added that the Utes feel they are in a good spot when it comes to quarterbacks next season, even if they’ll have to retool things again thereafter.
“That quarterback room turns over quite often and I don’t think that is unique to us,” Whittingham said. “I think it is common around the country with the portal.”
Lisk, a former walk-on who is now on scholarship, is the only quarterback to have seen action for the Utes. The former Jordan High star has played in six games over the past three seasons — completing 7 of 9 passes for 52 yards and rushing for five yards on three carries.
Huntley, meanwhile, leaves some big shoes to fill. The first-team All-Pac-12 honoree, who was in consideration for several national awards, was 23-10 as a starter. He set school records for single-season completion percentage (.730), career completion percentage (.672), pass efficiency (177.55 rating), yards per completion (14.1) and total offense per play (8.3 yards).
Whittingham declined to say who would take the first snap when spring ball begins on March 2.
“Good question. I guess we will find out,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you right now. I can tell you it will be Cam, Drew or Jake. We can narrow it down to those three.”