Utah Mulling Deep Quarterback Pool
By Rhett Wilkinson
As longtime 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.”
Next fall there will be five scholarship quarterbacks and six in the program. 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 — like Warner Bros. with the Superman franchise — haven’t been able to maintain a consistent starter for several years.
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 a Sun Devil, Rock wrote.
One spring later, however, the Utes feel like they can look to the sky in hope with their quarterback circumstances.
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. Wilson particularly impressed in two contests last fall — a Nov. 3 thrashing of Washington State (17-of-21, 171 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and a Nov. 17 defeat against Arizona (28-of-40, 311 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions), both at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
With performances like those last season against the Cougars and Wildcats, Wilson indicated that he could be every bit the player he was to end spring ball. He did go from average to pretty good in just a few 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. 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 High School (Calif.) 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.
Wilson’s potential started to materialize late last season, when Utah’s scoring offense ranked just 75th in FBS. Utah's FBS rankings in rushing yards (93rd) and passing yards (100th) were even worse. But the young man just turned 19 years old. His offensive coordinator (Brian Johnson) is just seven years older than him. At least new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is 66 and 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 for the Pac-12 South Division title.
Then again, perhaps it isn’t the mainstay’s ineptitude as much as the newcomer’s aptitude. Whittingham told The Salt Lake Tribune’s Lya Wodraska during spring practices that the Utes might have two quarterbacks in the "upper echelon" of the Pac-12.
The former Muskego (Wisc.) High School all-conference player (academically, too) was no slouch during the Red-White game, throwing for 245 yards and two scores. He was just 9-of-20 but had a 73-yard scoring strike. But it didn’t help the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder in his quest to unseat Wilson, as Whittingham said that Wilson “put some separation” between himself and Schulz.
Cox helped offset the losses of Brown and Eubank by reversing on Arizona and committing to Utah in October — and since has done more.
Though Cox watched the Red-White game on the sidelines, he has been named a co-backup with Schulz heading into August practices. (Does this mean Whittingham would say Cox is also among the quarterbacks in the Pac-12’s upper echelon?) Whittingham told Rock that Cox played better than any of the quarterbacks in an earlier scrimmage, when he completed 7-of-10 attempts for 66 yards.
He was rated the 57th-best high school quarterback after the 2011 season, when the 6-foot-3, 185-pound multi-sport athlete 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 High School record with 43 total touchdowns. It’s even more remarkable since Cox played just two games 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 is a freshman walk-on 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. He threw for 1,456 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions (yes, more picks than scores) last season.
CONNER MANNING AND MICAH THOMAS
Manning and Thomas are the promising freshman who will join the team in August. Manning racked up 9,449 passing yards and 88 touchdowns in his prep career. According to Dirk Facer of the Deseret News, Manning 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.
As a senior, Thomas passed for 849 yards and six touchdowns, and rushed for 734 yards on just 92 carries, with10 touchdowns. According to LarryBrownSports.com, he has declared that he will be the best player the Pac-12 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.