SALT LAKE CITY — The 2019 season for Utah football was arguably one of its best in recent history leading up to the postseason.
With an 11-1 record, no team was better than the Utes in the Pac-12 that season. And its top-5 national standing in the Associated Press Top 25 and College Football Playoff rankings gave Utah a real shot at being the first team from the Pac-12 invited to the playoff since Washington's semifinal appearance in 2016.
Another team from the Big 12 Conference had reached a similar pinnacle with an 11-1 record and appeared destined to give Utah a run for its money for the fourth spot in the playoff. That team was Baylor, led by quarterback Charlie Brewer and head coach Matt Rhule.
Brewer was one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country that season, throwing for 3,161 yards and completing his passes with a 64.5% accuracy. He threw 21 touchdowns and rushed for another 11 as Baylor rolled through the Big 12 before falling to Oklahoma in the conference championship game, and then again in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia.
Of note, Utah's Tyler Huntley threw for 3,092 yards with 73.1% passing accuracy that same season, as well as tossing 19 touchdowns and rushing for five.
Fast forward a year — past a global pandemic that disrupted all facets of life and that of collegiate athletics — and Brewer now sits in a different QB room, looking for an opportunity to return to national prominence as the potential starter for Utah. As a proven starter at a Power Five program and as a senior, the path to starting would appear to be a lock.
Utah's been down this road before, though, and knows that a senior and a multi-year starter for a Power Five program isn't always a guarantee that past results will lead to success in the future. But in 2021, it may be a different story if Utah's spring football is any indication of things to come.
Brewer, by all accounts from Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and several players, has done everything right since stepping foot on Utah's campus. It's why Whittingham is not shy about his praise for his new transfer quarterback and says he's the "hands down" quarterback that's separated himself in spring and has been "an outstanding fit."
"He's been everything we'd hoped he be to this point," Whittingham said. "He's a proven vet. He's got a lot of experience under his belt at the Power Five level. He's thrown for a ton of yards, won a bunch of games, so that's what we expected. So far. he's been exactly what we expected. As he continues to digest and assimilate the offense, he gets better and better, and it's going to be a great battle between him and Cam (Rising) this fall ball — two outstanding quarterbacks."
Whittingham is not one to praise a player just for praise's sake. He's found a proven quarterback that could lead Utah for the 2021 season, or at the very least he could push Rising in his return in the fall when the two compete for the starting job. Rising was named the starter in 2020 before suffering a season-ending injury in his first game.
Will Brewer have the upper hand in the fall? Time will tell, but he's got the confidence of the tight ends room, at least, which has taken a large role in Utah's offense over the last couple of years with standouts Brant Kuithe and Cole Fotheringham. The room added Dalton Kincaid last year as another proven tight end ready to advance the offensive playmaking abilities for Utah.
"He can throw at all angles, he can run the ball," said Kuithe, who has been limited in spring. "The things I have seen, he can throw amazing. During practice he can launch it."
"The more reps you get with him, the better chemistry, so any rep is a good rep," Kincaid added. "But he's just, he's very confident in what he does. He kind of just has a switch that when he's in the huddle, he's just locked in. He throws a gorgeous ball; it seems to always hit you in the right spot. He's kind of just taking more of a leadership role, I feel like, when he's in the huddle."
Leadership in the huddle ✅
Gorgeous ball ✅
Amazing, on-target throws ✅
Confident in his game ✅
So far so good for the Utes, who look to get more out of its offense in 2021 than in 2020. Brewer will continue to get the "vast majority of reps" in spring before it turns to a two-man race in summer and fall, according to Whittingham. But don't sleep on Rising, either. Prior to his injury, Whittingham praised Rising for his ability to lead the team.
And barring the sudden emergence of Ja'Quinden Jackson or Peter Costelli, Utah has a clear path forward.