SALT LAKE CITY – Somewhere buried deep in the transfer portal, there’s a lesson for most college football programs thinking about bringing in a one-and-done quarterback.
Don’t do it. Simple as that.
For most programs, aside from the few bluebloods capable of attracting NFL talent through the transfer portal, the better alternative might be to recruit a younger quarterback and develop him in the same system over multiple years. The investment can pay big dividends by the time the quarterback becomes a senior.
No team knows this better than the Utah Utes, who have gone for the quick fix the last two seasons. Neither worked.
Charlie Brewer is the most recent example, having transferred to Utah after spending the last four years at Baylor. Brewer lasted all of three games, quitting this week after getting pulled in the second half of Utah’s overtime loss to San Diego State.
One year ago, during the COVID-shortened five-game season, Jake Bentley transferred out shortly after the 3-2 campaign. At least Bentley, who came over from South Carolina, stuck it out the entire season despite not originally losing the competition to Cam Rising.
On paper, Utah’s decisions to take on both quarterbacks made sense. Each had extensive experience in Power 5 conferences, facts that the Utes did not have after three-year starter Tyler Huntley graduated in 2019.
The problem was, somewhere along the line, they didn’t play up to anticipated standards. As both players proved, they weren’t interested in sticking around as back-ups.
Player development has paid off handsomely for the Utes, who have won at least nine games each season since 2014 except for Huntley’s sophomore year in 2017 and not counting last year’s abbreviated schedule. With Brewer gone, Rising has the opportunity to follow Huntley’s path by starting as a sophomore.
For a program such as Utah, which doesn’t usually load up on top-rated high school talent, the formula for proven success is to identify talent and then develop it once the player assimilates into the program. Look no further than the team’s progression from 2017-19.
Going with the bold decision to choose Huntley over returning senior starter Troy Williams, the Utes were 7-6 in 2017 and finished fifth in the South Division. They were 9-5 and 11-3 over the next two seasons, tying a Pac-12 record at 8-1 in 2019, and won the division both times.
A senior-laden defense also played a significant role in the success in 2019. Eight of the players on defense, including multiple who weren’t full-time starters until their last season, are on NFL rosters.
Considering each situation, it’s easy to follow the thinking of coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig to offer scholarships to Bentley and Brewer. A quarterback shortage dating back several years needed to be addressed.
In addition to losing Huntley two years ago, the quarterback shuffle included Rising coming over from Texas and two backups transferring out. Bentley and senior Drew Lisk left after last season, replaced by Texas transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson and incoming freshman Peter Costelli.
To complicate the glaring lack of experience, Rising was returning from a serious shoulder injury he suffered in the first game last season and caused him to miss all of the last spring practice. After starting most of his time at Baylor, for some reason Brewer foresaw greener pastures in Utah’s run-oriented program.
Meanwhile, Rising eventually got cleared to practice and participated in the August training camp. Instead of going with Brewer, in obvious hindsight, Whittingham and Ludwig should have started Rising and allowed him to grow in anticipation of better competing for the Pac-12 championship over the next two years.
On the day Brewer left the program, Whittingham stood by the decision to go with the senior over Rising. The experience factor, he said, was the difference in a close competition last month.
“The bottom line is who gives you the best chance to win right now,” Whittingham said. “I guess you can say, well, we’re just going to look two or three years down the road. That’s not how most football coaches operate – not how any of them operate that I know of.”
The easy temptation is to blame Whittingham’s long-held philosophy to protect the defense as the reason for Utah’s repeated misfortunes at quarterback. The problem with that argument is Huntley, who was signed out of high school in Florida, is in his second season with the Baltimore Ravens.