At first Big 12 media day, Utah embraces its perceived spot at the top of the conference

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising answers questions from the media during the Big 12 NCAA college football media days in Las Vegas, Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (Lucas Peltier, Associated Press)

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LAS VEGAS β€” Cam Rising sat in front of a television screen in a VIP club portion of Allegiant Stadium Tuesday afternoon.

In short order, Rising was playing as himself on EA Sports' CFB 25 β€” one of the most talked about video games this summer that will be released on July 17. He quickly found his stride and tossed touchdowns to tight ends Brant Kuithe and Landen King.

It seems Rising has a knack for scoring no matter the venue or platform.

But as Rising returned to the venue where he helped Utah claim back-to-back Pac-12 championships, the branding around Allegiant Stadium was different. In a place the Pac-12 called home, it was the Big 12 that took ownership.

Still, it was a bit of a full-circle moment for Rising, who returns to the Big 12 after initially enrolling at Texas. Now, he's taking part in Big 12 media days as the starting quarterback for a Utah team picked to win the conference he once called home as a freshman.

It's a position Rising has been in before with the Utes β€” the favored team trying to uphold expectations β€” but as everything around him changed, he sat in a familiar spot answering questions about how Utah would handle the pressure as the preferred pick of the Big 12.

And much like his answers in the Pac-12, Rising maintained a similar perspective.

"I don't really pay attention to none of that," Rising said. "Whatever's happening in house, that's all that really matters. It's great to get those rankings and stuff, but you gotta go out there and prove it.

"I try not to think about it," he added. "I mean, you've just gotta go out there and do it. You take it one day at a time and just take it β€” this practice, this conditioning, this workout. That's when you start to succeed and just see growth exponentially, and just every day, so that's pretty much my only goal."

The game of football is still the same β€” even if the conference logo on his chest when he suits up this fall is different.

For head coach Kyle Whittingham, part of Utah's preferred spot at the top of the Big 12 is due to players like Rising. After a season of struggles and misfortunes without their starting QB, Whittingham is grateful to have Rising back on the field in Utah's transition to a new conference.

"He immediately makes us better," Whittingham said. "And Cam has that 'it' factor. As much as he does for us in play, it's his leadership that really is probably the most valuable asset that he brings to the football team. He's one of those guys that's able to make everybody around him better. And that's really what a great player does, is he makes his supporting cast play better.

"It's a whole different feel," he added. "When he's in the huddle and at the quarterback position, there is no doubt who's in charge. He's got the respect of every single one of his teammates. They believe in him. They're confident in Cam. And it's just the moxie and the field general mentality that exudes from him is contagious."

And though Rising embodies what Whittingham wants from his leader on the field, the longtime coach who is entering his 20th season at the helm believes the team's attention to physicality is what will help them transition to a new conference.

"Physicality is always a good thing in football," Whittingham said. "That's our calling card. We pride ourselves on being a physical football team year in, year out. Defensively, we've been very consistent. And if you're good on defense, you're going to be in every game every week. It's something that our philosophy, our culture, I think, stands the test of time. And obviously we've got good players.

And though there may be some differences in how the Big 12 attacks the game of football, Whittingham sees more similarities than anything β€” especially at the Power Four level.

"I think that we're going to be able to make that transition. I don't think there's going to be any β€” there's nobody running the wishbone or anything like that in the conference β€” so it's predominantly a spread league, which, like I said, every conference is the same in that regard."

And getting teams to Rice-Eccles Stadium, he said, will be an advantage to Utah.

Utah feels like it has the roster to compete at the highest level of the Big 12, with Whittingham and the players not shy about having playoff aspirations. If anything, Whittingham embraces those aspirations more, believing that the system is better catered to what will allow his team to qualify for the new 12-team playoff.

"We feel like we've got a roster that's equipped to compete right away," he said. "Obviously, the media feels the same way as far as being picked the favorite. I think that's a show of respect to our players and coaches that have done a great job competing through the years that the media has selected us No. 1.

"But in the final analysis, that doesn't mean anything. Obviously you've got to play the games, and our players are fully aware of that. But, again, it's a nice show of respect for our program from the media."

It's a roster that Kuithe believes is going to be "surprising" to outsiders.

"We have a lot of playmakers, and a lot of guys can get the ball," Kuithe said. "I'm excited for everybody, and I think it's going to be surprising what we do this year."

Utah now has to live up to the expectations.

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer covering University of Utah athletics β€” primarily football, men’s and women's basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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