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Utah Utes Football Spring Preview

Utah Utes Quarterback Cam Rising dropping back with ball in hand
© Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

After departing the PAC-12 in its final action-packed rendition, the Utah Utes look toward a new league of challenges in the Big 12. Given an injury-ridden season in 2023, the Utes found themselves with an 8-5 record, going 5-4 in league play. Unfortunately, Utah went through several QB changes throughout the year in a constant battle with health and ended up being 5th in the final PAC standings. A campaign in which Cam Rising never played a snap ended in a 7-14 loss against Northwestern in the Las Vegas Bowl. Gearing up for their first year in the Big 12 and Kyle Whittingham’s 20th season commanding the team, the Utes look to bounce back in the 2024 season.

Spring camp kicked off for the Utes on March 12th, with the "22 Forever Game" (a game in memorial for the late Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe) scheduled for Saturday, April 13th at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will kick off at 11 AM MT and will be aired on Pac-12 Networks as of right now. In February, Utah announced the spring captains to be Cameron Rising, Junior Tafuna, Brant Kuithe, and Karene Reid.

Key Utah Utes declaring for NFL draft

While retaining key talent and 18 starters for the coming season like Cam Rising, Micah Bernard, and Zemaiah Vaughn, along with others on the defensive and offensive lines, the Utah Utes have had a few inevitable departures to the pros. Key Utes who have declared for the NFL draft include the following:

- Cole Bishop, Safety

- Sione Vaki, Safety

- Jonah Elliss, Defensive End

- Sataoa Laumea, Offensive Line

- Keaton Bills, Offensive Line

- Devaughn Vele, Wide Receiver

Key departures in the transfer portal

The transfer portal impacted everyone this off-season, and the Utes were nowhere near immune. Several players who boosted the success of the Utah football program transferred to other schools, leaving the Utes with many holes in the roster. Listed below are some of the biggest departures and where they are headed:

Ja’Quinden Jackson, Running Back, SR (Arkansas)

After transferring to Utah following zero appearances as a true freshman at Texas, Jackson gradually assumed a significant role in the Utes' offense. The former quarterback turned running back played in 12 games during the 2023 season, starting 11. He led the team in carries with 161, accumulating 797 yards and 4 touchdowns. Losing him could be a setback for the Utah run game, as he appears poised to have a strong season with the Razorbacks.

Nate Johnson, Quarterback, SO (Vanderbilt)

Due to Cam Rising's injury, backup redshirt freshman Nate Johnson saw action in seven games. He maintained a 54% pass completion rate, throwing for three touchdowns and 499 yards. Additionally, he rushed 58 times, accumulating 232 yards with four touchdowns. His departure to Vanderbilt adds an interesting dynamic to the quarterback room, especially if Rising were to go down again.

Bryson Barnes, Quarterback, JR (Utah State)

Similar to Johnson, Barnes received significant playing time at QB due to Rising’s injury. He played in 11 games, starting 10, and threw for 1,572 yards with a 58% completion rate, along with 11 interceptions and 12 touchdowns. After committing to the Aggies up north and with the departure of Nate Johnson, the Utah Utes have a quarterback battle to watch this spring for QB2 between Brandon Rose and freshman Isaac Wilson.

Mikey Matthews, Wide Receiver, SO (California)

The freshman played in all 12 games and started in six during the 2023 season. He tallied 29 catches for 261 yards while also contributing on special teams. He had 15 kick returns for 309 yards and 17 punt returns for 75 yards. Matthews is perceived to have a lot of potential and holds a four-star transfer rating on 247sports.

JaTravis Broughton, Cornerback, SR (TCU)

Playing in 12 games and starting 11 at cornerback, Broughton recorded 37 tackles with one tackle for loss. After losing some players in the secondary to the NFL, his departure raises some questions for the Utes' defense heading into 2024.

Key additions through the transfer portal

While losing a handful of players, the team has had some great pickups to retool this roster. According to 247sports, Utah is ranked 35th in the transfer rankings. These are some of the impact players they have acquired and where they came from:

Dorian Singer, Wide Receiver, SR (USC)

After being awarded AP All-Pac-12 first-team with Arizona in 2022 and transferring to USC for 2023, Singer's production dipped but remained solid. He accumulated 24 catches for 289 yards, averaging 12 yards per catch, and scored three touchdowns. Being regarded as one of the best transfer wide receivers in the portal, an expanded role compared to his time at USC could set Singer up for a significant season with the Utes.

Carsen Ryan, Tight End, JR (UCLA)

Another significant addition is Utah native Carsen Ryan, who played in 12 games last year with the Bruins, starting eight of them. He recorded 13 catches for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan aims to solidify his role in the tight end room alongside Brant Kuithe, Landen King, and company.

Taeshaun Lyons, Wide Receiver, FR (Washington)

Lyons only played in two games for the Huskies in 2023 but has a lot of potential, having been a four-star recruit out of high school. Given a chance outside of the competitive 2023 Washington wide receiver room and a change of scenery, Lyons is someone to watch out for this season for the Utes.

Kenan Johnson, Cornerback, SR (Georgia Tech)

After losing JaTravis Broughton, Kenan Johnson emerges as a solid replacement and addition for the Utes at cornerback. He played in 11 games with eight starts last year, tallying 29 tackles, two forced fumbles, and an interception. The experienced senior should complement Zemaiah Vaughn well in the secondary.

Looking towards the Big 12

Utah wide receiver Money Parks carrying the ball against Baylor.
© Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Utes look to start strong in the new-look Big 12, where they will face some familiar foes and their rival BYU. They start the season at home on August 29th, facing Southern Utah University. Their schedule has them hosting Baylor, Arizona, TCU, BYU, and Iowa State. They will be traveling throughout the season to play Utah State in Logan, Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Houston, Colorado, and UCF. With the uncertainty of the new conference realignment, look out for the Utah Utes to make some noise in the Big 12.


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