This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Luck means a lot in football. Not having a good quarterback is bad luck."
The Utah Utes have had their fill of bad luck. And their time has come to rearrange their fortune.
In that effort, the quarterback race is the story of Utah's spring practices, although that race ran straight into a fog bank when transfer Troy Williams was shelved on account of a sore arm nearly two weeks ago. His absence has done nothing but make the competition that much more intriguing, now that Brandon Cox has had the chance to shine in two scrimmages, running with the rookie Tyler Huntley.
So, there's Cox, an intelligent guy who's been in the program for a couple of seasons, spending most of that time in the shadows and too much of it hurt. There's Williams, an outspoken, energetic guy who once was a top-rated prep quarterback who played at Washington, then moved to Santa Monica College, where he threw for 38 touchdowns and just four interceptions, before landing here. And there's a promising, charismatic guy, Huntley, who loves the spotlight, throws a nice deep ball and seems to have caught the imagination of Ute coaches, who are thrilled to have him, even in his raw, teen-aged stage.
Yeah, this is going to be fun and good, and perhaps the energizing factor the Utah offense so badly needs. It's definitely going to keep a lot of people guessing which quarterback will be the starter in September, although there's reasonable speculation already here about how it will all play out, speculation that will be spilled in a few more paragraphs.
Kyle Whittingham said a few days ago, after witnessing a controlled scrimmage on Saturday, during which Cox completed a high percentage of his throws, along with four touchdown passes, that if the season were to start right away, Cox would be the man. The problem with that is 1) the season isn't starting right away, and 2) coaches are liars. Not in any malicious way, just for the sake of strategy and to keep the competition fresh.
The last thing Whittingham wants is to jump the gun by naming a single QB, even a favored one, ticking off the other two and maybe causing one of them to transfer out. He's too smart for that, and he knows that we know that he knows that we know it, too. The quarterbacks themselves are fully aware, as well.
Co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick recently broke down the strengths and selling points of each of the candidates, saying Williams is "a polished passer" who has "excellent mechanics" and a lot of experience. He said Cox is a quarterback "we can win with," calling him a "veteran." He said Huntley has "touch and a strong arm. He's smart and he's a leader."
Let's cut through the crap. Who's going to start? "I can't say," Roderick answered. "I really don't know."
Whittingham said Cox is playing his best football. He said of Huntley that "he's a really dynamic player. He's not afraid to put the ball up in any situation. Sometimes he has to make a little more judicious decisions, but it's great to see his aggressiveness and his confidence."
After the Utes' first spring scrimmage, the 18-year-old Huntley generated national notice when he was asked, on a scale from 0 to 10, how the Utah offense would rank in terms of explosiveness, and he said: "We're going to be a 10. We're not going to be just Pac-12 explosive, we're going to be nationwide explosive. When you turn on 'SportsCenter,' you're going to see the Utah Utes on there."
It was a great quote, one of the best of the spring, coming from a kid who should be buying a corsage and getting ready for senior prom. The Utes are glad he's here, his enthusiasm and ambition blowing through the roof.
With no public declaration from the coaches, there's only sound reasoning OK, best guesses as to how the quarterback race will end up:
Sore arm or no, Utah didn't bring Williams in from his huge season at Santa Monica to be a backup, and Williams didn't come here to stand on the sideline. He had other offers. This is the one he took. Short of that arm of his staying sore, he'll be named the starter sometime during fall camp. The sooner the better, considering too much delay could divide the team and cause distractions. Competition is good, for the time being, but when the moment comes, he'll be established as the offensive leader, a role he'll relish, a role he came to Utah to fill.
Cox, who has been notable heading into Saturday's spring game, will be the backup. As mentioned, he's shown he can move the offense and be efficient doing so. He wouldn't welcome the backup role; in fact, there is some fear that if he doesn't get the right opportunity, then, he'll bolt. That's understandable, considering a kid only gets one shot at college football.
"I'm not a coach," Cox said. "I'm not here to say who the starter's going to be. But, day by day, I just try to keep getting better, develop more as a quarterback and keep learning. … I try not to pay attention to [who the starter will be] because you start to get tense and make every play like it's your last. I feel like [I should] just go out there and have fun and play my game."
Asked to differentiate between the quarterbacks, he said: "All three of us make plays with our feet and with our arms."
Huntley, while having impressed Whittingham and Roderick, is still absorbing how to read defenses and move through progressions. A quarterback who hasn't mastered those basics is prone to making the kind of mistakes Whittingham loathes, and causing the things Whittingham hates turnovers.
It's fair to guess that if Williams locks in as the starter, and Cox is the second option, that Huntley will redshirt. At least he would, under ideal conditions, learning what needs to be learned in order to take advantage of his obvious talent. But if either of the other two struggle, and the offense sags, Whittingham wouldn't double-clutch in activating Huntley.
He's a defense-first coach, but he also knows he can't win the Pac-12 without good luck, without a good quarterback.
Whittingham, too, wants an offense that, when he turns on SportsCenter, he sees his Utah Utes on there.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.