Heading into Utah’s first season in the Big 12, there’s no question as to who the starting quarterback is.

When Utah opens the season at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Aug. 29 against Southern Utah, the plan is for Cam Rising to be under center, playing for the first time since the 2023 Rose Bowl. The veteran signal-caller, who missed the entire 2023 campaign recovering from repairs to his ACL, meniscus, MPFL and MCL, returns for his seventh year in college football, and his third season leading Utah’s offense.

A return to form by the dynamic quarterback is exactly what the Utes need after an anemic offensive performance in his absence. Rising has been the catalyst for pushing Andy Ludwig’s offense to new heights while winning back-to-back Pac-12 championships and helping reinvent Utah’s passing game; he has thrown for 5,572 yards and 46 touchdowns during his Utes career.

“If (QB Cameron) Rising is back and healthy all season, they’ve got a legit shot at a first-year Big 12 title,” an anonymous Big 12 coach told Athlon Sports.

Aside from the offensive production, there are the intangibles that Rising brings.

“Every time that he’s out here, every practice he’s been out here, which has been every single one of ‘em this spring, we have confidence,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He brings a swagger to the offense and that’s what we were missing last year. So it’s great to have him.” Whittingham often calls Rising the “alpha dog” and a “supreme leader.”

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By all accounts, Rising was healthy throughout spring ball and is ready for his comeback season, getting through spring practices without missing “one minute,” Whittingham said.

In the portions that the media watched and during the spring game, Rising was moving well and hasn’t lost a step when it comes to his arm strength or throwing mechanics. In Utah’s spring game, Rising played three series, all three of which resulted in a touchdown. He also connected on some deep throws — a 57-yard touchdown pass to Money Parks and a 40-yard completion to USC transfer Dorian Singer. The real test will come in August, when he has to react to a pursuing defender from an opposing team or make a quick cut, but so far, so good for Rising on the health front.

With a healthy Rising, Utah shouldn’t have anything to worry about at the QB position, but as it learned last season, the backup quarterback position carries a whole lot of importance.

Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson, plus Luke Bottari for one game, took the quarterback reins last season, and though there were some positive moments in the injury-plagued Utes’ 8-4 season — like wins over Florida and USC — the quarterback play was subpar the majority of the time; Utah finished 117th in the nation for passing yards per game (165.8).

Barnes and Johnson both transferred — Barnes to Utah State and Johnson to Vanderbilt — along with Mack Howard.

During spring ball, Utah had two backup quarterback options — sophomore Brandon Rose and true freshman Isaac Wilson — and added a third in the transfer portal this spring, picking up junior Sam Huard from Cal Poly.

Here’s a look at each of Utah’s backup quarterbacks and what they bring.

Brandon Rose

Utah quarterback Brandon Rose looks to pass during 2023 spring drills at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. | University of Utah Athletics

It’s Rose’s third year in the program after redshirting his freshman season and not seeing the field last year. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound quarterback from Temecula, California, has remained loyal to the Utes while just about every other quarterback around him has transferred from Salt Lake City to find playing time elsewhere.

“He’s stuck it out,” Whittingham told the Deseret News’ Doug Robinson. “It speaks to his character and his drive and his confidence in himself. It’s refreshing to see that happen, especially at that position.”

It hasn’t been an easy road for Rose, who was seen as the favorite for the backup job in 2023 coming out of spring camp. But an injury sustained in a fall camp scrimmage set him back for the better part of two months.

Rose was healthy in October, but that missed time during fall camp and the early part of the season was too much of a setback and he never saw the field, even during Utah’s 14-7 Las Vegas Bowl loss to Northwestern in which Barnes struggled. Even though bowl games don’t count toward medical redshirt status, he remained on the sidelines.

“He just is not ready to do that yet,” Whittingham said postgame after the Las Vegas Bowl. “He’s just not, from a grasp of the offense and decision-making. He’s still in learning stages, in his learning stage, and he’s got a lot of things going for him. He’s got a big arm and he moves around pretty good, so it’s not indicative of where he could be at some point in time, but he’s just not ready to be thrust in there right now.”

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Rose took a step forward during spring camp, Whittingham said, in just about everything, and had some good performances during the media viewing portions.

“More confidence, more command in the offense. Better decision-making, better job just running the huddle. Just being that what you want out of a QB, being a leader out there,” Whittingham said.

Rose’s time at Utah is seemingly at a crossroads, as he’s entering his third year in the program without any playing time, and has lost out on the QB2 job for the last two seasons.

The former three-star quarterback holds some advantages heading into the fall quarterback battle, namely the familiarity and comfort around the program and the experience of learning Ludwig’s system for three seasons.

“I’m fired up with the growth and maturity of Brandon Rose,” Ludwig said. “The injury set him back. He’s made the absolute most of that time. He’s come back a better player, more confident, more poised in the pocket, better system understanding, so I’m very pleased with his progress to date. There’s still plenty of work to do through the course of the summer.”

While others have transferred, Rose stuck it out at Utah and it will pay off this season if he earns the backup role.

“Just having faith,” Rose said in December. “I like it here. Just knowing that I know what I can do and I’m confident in myself and my ability that I can play here.”

Isaac Wilson

Utah freshman quarterback Isaac Wilson prepares to throw during spring camp at the Utes Football Spring Ball at Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center
Utah freshman quarterback Isaac Wilson prepares to throw during spring camp at the Utes Football Spring Ball at Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center on Tuesday, March 12, 2024.Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has liked what he's seen from the former Corner Canyon High star. | Eli Rehmer, Utah Athletics

The four-star Corner Canyon phenom graduated high school early and participated in spring practices, splitting backup reps with Rose.

From what the media saw during spring practices, plus the spring game, there’s a real shot for the 2023 Deseret News’ Mr. Football to secure the backup spot in the fall. That was evident during Utah’s spring game, where Wilson had the upper hand on Rose — though you shouldn’t read too much into spring game results.

Wilson completed eight of his 12 passes in the the “22 Forever Game,” throwing for 165 yards and two touchdowns, including a deep shot to a wide-open Luca Caldarella for a 39-yard score and a dart up the seam to Landen King for a score. Rose was 9 for 14 for 79 yards, including an 18-yard pass to Cameron Mitchell.

“Isaac was really good today,” Whittingham said postgame. “He’s a talented kid. Handled the stage, I guess you could say, very well. He and Brandon will continue to battle into fall camp, but Isaac certainly took a big step forward today.”

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The physical traits are there for Wilson, who has impressed with his arm strength and quick pickup of the offense, but there’s still more work to be done to learn the offense.

“With Isaac Wilson, the skill set is definitely there, but you’re talking about a young man that was a high school senior on Friday and then came in, was a college freshman on Monday, so he’s still learning a lot,” Ludwig said. “But the arm talent, the athleticism and the football savvy are there. He’s just still learning the ins and outs of Utah offensive football.”

Whittingham callled the competition a “dead heat” entering the last week of spring camp.

“It’s really iron sharpens iron. Brandon will make a play, then Isaac will come in and make a play,” Rising said. “They’re just really going at it with each other. It’s fun to watch and see them compete and take advantage of each and every day to make sure that they get better and can prove that they’re the guy for the job.”

Sam Huard

Washington quarterback Sam Huard is pictured before an NCAA football game against Kent State on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Seattle. Washington won 45-20.
Washington quarterback Sam Huard is pictured before a game against Kent State on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Seattle. Huard committed to the Utes last spring and is in the battle for QB2 duties. | Stephen Brashear, Associated Press

In a January interview with ESPN 700′s Bill Riley, Whittingham said he wants to have four scholarship quarterbacks. During spring practices, the Utes had three — Rising, Rose and Wilson — but the Utes picked up Huard post-spring ball to shore up the quarterback room.

Aside from Bottari, Huard is the only backup quarterback with game experience, playing at Washington and Cal Poly.

The former five-star quarterback committed to Washington in 2021, playing sparingly in three games under head coach Jimmy Lake before starting the Apple Cup against Washington State, where he threw for 190 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions as the Huskies lost 40-13 to the Cougars to cap off a 4-8 season. A year later, Michael Penix Jr. transferred to Washington and led the Huskies to an 11-2 record.

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Following the emergence of Penix Jr. at Washington, Huard transferred to FCS Cal Poly, where he started for the Mustangs and threw for 2,205 yards on a 60.9% completion rate and tossed 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

The addition of the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Huard through the transfer portal is a low-risk, high-reward situation for the Utes. He instantly brings college game experience to the room and, if the lefty makes the most of his fresh start at the Division I level, could win the backup job.

“Utah has an unbelievable culture, and the people and the program were some things that I felt were the best for me at this point in my career,” Huard told 247 Sports’ Brandon Huffman on his decision to transfer to Utah.

“To be in a great spot and to compete every day with great people around me, being in the room and learning from one of the best quarterbacks in college football, while being able to have two years in a great system was a big part of it.”

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