SALT LAKE CITY — As Deseret News columnist Brad Rock wrote, “Deep down, everyone wants to be quarterback. It just so happens that on Utah's football team in 2013, almost everyone is.”
In August, five scholarship quarterbacks will be in the program, with another a walk-on. Kyle Whittingham and the Utah coaching staff are smart to stack the position. Ever since co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson led the Utes as a senior to a Sugar Bowl win in 2009, the Utes — much like Warner Bros.’ Superman franchise — haven’t been able to maintain a consistent starter for several years.
Attempts at liftoff haven’t been smooth. Of course, there’s the Jordan Wynn shoulder saga. Last year, Winchester, Calif., signal-caller Derrick Brown committed to Utah before changing to Washington. Top-rated prospect Michael Eubank of Corona, Calif., showed interest in Utah but is now at Arizona State, Rock reported.
Still, Whittingham said the Utes might have two quarterbacks in the “upper echelon” of the Pac-12 in projected starter Travis Wilson and Adam Schulz — and freshman Brandon Cox is actually listed as a co-backup with Schulz, according to the university’s athletics website.
While Utah athletics media relations was unwilling to check with Whittingham to confirm the assumption that Cox is in that same category, the Utes feel like it can look to the sky in hope with their quarterback circumstances. Logan Bateman is the walk-on, while two 2013 high school graduates will be in Salt Lake City next month.
Here's an in-depth analysis of each of Utah's five options at quarterback for the 2013 football season.
Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for UtahPolicy.com and hails the true-blooded Aggies from Utah. He's the co-founder of USU student magazine Aggie BluePrint and a former intern for the Deseret News. @wilklogan | email@example.com
In a rainy Red-White spring game, Wilson threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, completing 13-of-17 passes without an interception. He also directed five scoring drives — in the first half. It marked arguably his best performance in a game structure since the 6-foot-6 sophomore started the final seven games of last season.
Whittingham called Wilson’s afternoon as good a spring game as he could recall. Though the Utes ranked dead last in the Pac-12 in passing offense last season, Wilson particularly impressed in two contests — a Nov. 3 thrashing of Washington State (17-of-21, 171 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), and in a Nov. 17 defeat to Arizona (28-of-40, 311 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) — both at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
With performances like those, Wilson indicated that he could be every bit the player he was to end spring ball. He did go from listless to (at least) mediocre in just a handful weeks during the second half of last season — a significant jump considering his first snap as a collegiate starter came in the Rose Bowl, in a 21-14 loss Oct. 13 at UCLA. But even in that contest, Wilson showed his ability to compete in the Pac-12, going 23-of-33 for 220 yards.
It wasn’t a huge surprise. After graduating early from San Clemente (Calif.) High School in 2011, Wilson was rated the 11th best overall quarterback in the nation by rivals.com and 17th by scout.com, setting school career records for passing yards and total offense.
Though Wilson sprouted in November, Utah’s scoring offense ranked just 75th in scoring offense the Football Bowl Subdivision at season’s end. Utah's FBS ranking in passing yards (100th) was even worse.
But take pause: the young man just turned 19 years old. And since his coordinator — Johnson, the biggest culprit of last season’s offensive woes — is just seven years older than him, he is fortunate to have new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson (66), who has coached for decades in the NFL and NCAA.
When it comes to star caliber, perhaps Schulz is an offensive version of the Utes’ next Eric Weddle, arguably the best safety in the NFL. But if the sophomore, a former walk-on, already is challenging Wilson to be Utah’s starting quarterback this fall, the Utes may have difficulty competing in the Pac-12 South.
Then again, perhaps it isn’t the mainstay’s ineptitude as much as the newcomer’s aptitude — given Whittingham’s “upper echelon” analysis.
Like Wilson, the former Muskego (Wis.) High School all-conference player — academically, too — was no slouch during the Red-White game, throwing for 245 yards and two scores. His 73-yard scoring strike helped offset a 9-of-20 afternoon. Still, Whittingham said that Wilson “put some separation” between himself and the 6-foot-1 205-pound Schulz that rainy day.
Cox helped offset the losses of Brown and Eubank by reversing on Arizona and committing to Utah in October — and since has done more to lessen the sting.
Cox watched the Red-White game on the sidelines, but Whittingham told Rock that the 6-foot-3, 185-pound signal-caller played better than any of the quarterbacks in an earlier scrimmage, when he completed 7-of-10 attempts for 66 yards.
The high school multi-sport athlete was rated the 57th best high school quarterback after the 2011 season, when he passed for 2,697 yards in 2011 with 26 touchdowns against five interceptions. He also ran for 562 yards and eight scores, setting a Pasadena (Calif.) High School record with 43 total touchdowns. That’s especially remarkable considering Cox played just two games for the Bulldogs in 2012 due to a foot injury.
Cox was also the Pasadena high vice president, receiving a presidential academic award in 2010 and 2011.
Bateman came from Royal High School in Simi Valley, Calif. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound signal-caller went 3-of-5 for 77 yards in the Red-White game, including a 53-yard toss. His high school senior numbers were proportionally worse, though: He threw for 1,456 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions — yes, more picks than scores — last season.
Conner Manning and Micah Thomas are the promising freshman that will join the team for fall camp. Manning racked up 9,449 passing yards and 88 touchdowns for El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif. He broke former USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s single-season Orange County passing record with 4,219 yards in 2011 and set another county mark with 613 single-game passing yards, the Deseret News’ Dirk Facer wrote.
As a senior, Thomas passed for 849 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 734 yards on just 92 carries, with 10 touchdowns. According to larrybrownsports.com, the graduate of North Shore Senior High School (Galena Park, Texas) has declared that he will be the best player his team’s BCS conference has ever seen.
“I’ll be the best QB ever to go to Utah, and in the PAC-12. Don’t believe me just watch,” he wrote from his Twitter account @Faitesdinspirer in February. Thomas was rated a two-star recruit by Scout and a three-star player by Rivals.
While Thomas' self-assessment may be a bit skewed, if Whittingham is correct in his analysis, the Utes should truly be far from worried at quarterback. In that vein, if Wilson can be the first Utah signal-caller in three years to stay on the field all season, his team could prove to be quite the surprise, as Erickson has suggested. Many prognostications have the Utes finishing only above dismal Colorado in the Pac-12 South.