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Talking to Utah quarterback Cam Rising at the start of spring football, there’s one thing that’s evident.

After a year away in 2023 rehabbing from surgery to repair his ACL, meniscus, MPFL and MCL, you can hear the hunger in Rising’s voice as he begins spring practice.

“Just throwing the ball as much as we can and just try to go over our plays as much as we can so that they’re flying around, making plays and not thinking about what we’re doing and just how we can do it better.”

—  Utah QB Cam Rising on spring camp

There are a myriad of reasons that Rising returned to Utah — a healthy season at the college level to show NFL scouts he still can play at an extremely high level, even after a brutal knee injury, and the NIL money certainly doesn’t hurt. Right up there with those reasons is a belief from Utah’s starting quarterback that his team can win the Big 12 championship in the Utes’ inaugural season in the conference and clinch Utah’s first berth in the College Football Playoff.

“I feel like there’s just meat left on the bone right here that I want to go finish — that and just really make sure that we can go win a championship and go to the playoff,” Rising said after Utah finished the first of 15 spring practices Tuesday.

“That’s really my goal this season and I think we got a great team around that can help me and just make a lot of plays for me, so I think we’re in a great position to do that.”

Utah will get its first taste of its new conference when it travels to Stillwater, Oklahoma, Sept. 21 to play its first Big 12 game against Oklahoma State. While Utah is certainly one of the preseason favorites to win the 16-team league, it’s going to face some stiff competition from Kansas State, Kansas and Arizona, among other teams, for the league crown.

A big part of the reason why Utah is among the Big 12 favorites is the presence of Rising, who took the baton from Tyler Huntley (who started Utah’s throw game upswing under Andy Ludwig with a 3,092-yard passing season, the first Utah quarterback to throw for over 2,900 yards since Brian Johnson in 2008) and kept the Utes’ offense rolling, leading Utah to back-to-back Pac-12 championships.

Rising’s absence was felt last season as Utah faltered down the stretch under backup quarterback Bryson Barnes, losing four of its last six games. Nate Johnson and Barnes each started at points during the season, and while Utah still finished the season with an 8-5 record, despite a bevy of injuries, its quarterback play and overall offense were subpar for the majority of the season. The Utes ranked 98th in Division I football in points per game (23.2), 92nd in total yards per game (348.4) and 117th in passing yards per game (165.8).

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Utah’s 14-7 loss to Northwestern in the Las Vegas Bowl really encapsulated the end-of-season offensive issues — no one, from the offensive line to the running backs to the wide receivers to the quarterback — was playing at a high enough level to win games down the stretch.

If Rising picks up where he left off over the last two years, a lot of the offensive issues will be solved. Ludwig’s pro-style offense really shines under Rising, who’s been a longtime student of it, dating back to the 2020 season, when he shadowed Ludwig while recovering from injury.

And while Rising definitely did not want to be sidelined again for the 2023 season, that 10,000-foot view of the game and the program can be beneficial, just like it was in 2020.

“You kind of just get a better understanding of football, knowing that it’s more so about getting first downs and stuff like that rather than always trying to go get a touchdown in those situations and really how play calls are going to be coming in and stuff like that,” Rising said.

“And that’s really my main takeaway to understand and just to see what the quarterback is going through and kind of his operation and just what I can take away and apply to my own game.”

What the seventh-year senior physically brings to the team is well-known — the arm talent, the accuracy, the ability to get first downs (and touchdowns) with his legs. The mental side — and the emotional side — is just as important.

Ask Whittingham about Rising, and the words “alpha dog” come out of his mouth almost every time. Rising’s presence instills a sense of calmness when he’s out there, which emanates throughout the entire offense.

“I lined up next to Cam, I’m not worrying about what I got to do. I ain’t worried about what he got to do and if I forget, I’m like, ‘Cam, what I got?’ He going to let me know, hey, do this. I’m like, all right, cool,” running back Micah Bernard said. “Because sometimes, there’s a lot of things going on in my head and his head, but quarterback know everything. So it’s cool to have a vet in the backfield with you just to make sure you know what you’re going to do.”

Rising being back makes a difference for everyone on the offense, including his protectors, the offensive line.

“After practice, I went to Lud’s office and just made the comment that it just felt different with Cam back there,” offensive line coach Jim Harding said. “And if I feel that way, I’m assuming the players do as well. Cam’s a very intelligent player, has a lot of moxie to him, well liked by his teammates, and so there certainly is an advantage having him back there.”

In Tuesday’s media viewing session — the first time I’ve seen Rising in action on a football field since Jan. 2, 2023, since fall practices are closed for viewing — the veteran Utah quarterback looked back to his old self.

He was moving well, completing a touchdown pass to Mycah Pittman (himself returning from a season-ending injury) and another to Brant Kuithe, who made a nice leaping grab in the end zone.

“It felt good. Got up a little bit. I didn’t think I could. I’m getting old,” Kuithe, who is entering his seventh year of college football, joked. “It felt good just to be back, and just excited. We have 14 more practices to go and just can’t wait.”

Rising also had a couple quarterback runs, including a 30-yarder, and looked smooth while running and cutting. The real test will be how he performs in a game situation with a defensive player bearing down on him, but so far, so good for Rising, who has no restrictions entering spring ball.

Right now, the focus is Rising knocking the rust off and getting back into the swing of things, while building chemistry with new faces like wide receiver Dorian Singer, who transferred to Utah from USC this offseason.

“Just throwing the ball as much as we can and just try to go over our plays as much as we can so that they’re flying around, making plays and not thinking about what we’re doing and just how we can do it better,” Rising said.

“It’s been really good. We’ve been throwing for probably a month and a half now, getting our chemistry down,” Singer said.

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When Rising trots out on the field for the first time since the 2023 Rose Bowl on Aug. 29, with “Bad Moon Rising” blasting and the Rice-Eccles Stadium crowd giving him a standing ovation, the countless hours of rehab will have all been worth it.

“Just happy to be back and just fired up for the season,” Rising said.

In case you missed it

Utah opened up spring camp on Tuesday. Here are observations from the Utes’ first practice, including which running back was impressive, the transfer receiver that stood out, how the offensive line is starting out, and candidates to fill open spots in the secondary.

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Extra points

  • Colorado edges out Utah in dramatic fashion to win skiing national championship (Deseret News)
  • No. 5 Utah gymnastics records season-high road score in win over Arizona (Deseret News)
  • Friday night college football isn’t going away any time soon for the Big 12 and Mountain West (Deseret News)

Up next

  • March 15 | 7 p.m. | Gymnastics | Utah State and Stanford | @ Salt Lake City
  • March 13-16 | Men’s basketball | Pac-12 tournament | @ Las Vegas, Nevada
  • March 17 | 6 p.m. | Women’s basketball | Selection Sunday

All times MDT.

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