A look at Utah’s QB situation after Bryson Barnes’, Mack Howard’s decision to enter transfer portal

Utah quarterback Brandon Rose during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023.
Utah quarterback Brandon Rose during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. | Eli Rehmer, Utah Athletics
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Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes announced his intentions to enter the transfer portal on Monday morning, ending his four-year career at Utah — but not until he plays in the Las Vegas Bowl against Northwestern.

After years of being the backup to Cam Rising, Barnes started nine games this season (playing in 10), after Rising’s knee injuries kept him out for the entirety of 2023.

“I’m proud of Bryson. I’m not surprised. No one’s more invested than Bryson Barnes and he’s shown continual improvement through his career here.” — Utah OC Andy Ludwig on the play of Barnes this season

The former walk-on quarterback threw for 1,517 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions at a 59% completion rate while adding 267 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

While helping Utah to an 8-4 regular-season record, he had some marquee plays, like his 70-yard touchdown pass to Money Parks on the first play from scrimmage against Florida and a game-winning drive against USC, including a 26-yard run to set up the deciding field goal from Cole Becker.

“I just think the way he’s operating now, he never was not confident, but he seems very sure of himself and very confident in what he’s doing, really taking charge,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after the USC game.

Barnes won the backup job in 2021 and 2022, helping Utah to a pivotal road win against Washington State last year, and played in the Utes’ two Rose Bowl appearances after Rising got hurt during both of them. A 15-yard touchdown pass with under two minutes remaining to tie the 2022 Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State at 45 ranks up there in moments from Barnes’ career.

“I’m proud of Bryson. I’m not surprised. No one’s more invested than Bryson Barnes and he’s shown continual improvement through his career here,” Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said in October.

With Rising returning for the 2024 season, it’s understandable why Barnes would want to move on. He’s given a lot to the Utah program, even without a scholarship at some points in his career. With a year of Power Five starting experience, Barnes could start at a Group of Five team, or even at another Power Five school.

What’s next?

With Barnes, Nate Johnson (who also started three games at quarterback this season), and Mack Howard hitting the transfer portal, here’s a look at Utah’s quarterback situation entering 2024.

The biggest news this year for Utah football came on Nov. 19, when Rising announced he was coming back to the university for the 2024 season. Rising, who has thrown for 5,572 yards and 46 touchdowns during his Utes career, will be the starter again.

The intrigue lies in who will be the backup option with Barnes, Johnson and Howard no longer available.

Related

Utah will be active in the transfer portal to shore up the quarterback position. The transfer portal officially opened Monday (it opened earlier than for graduate transfers and players from schools that have had a head coaching change) and there are already over 75 quarterbacks (and counting) that have announced intentions to enter their name in the portal, according to 247Sports.

As it stands, Utah’s quarterback options behind Rising for 2024 are Brandon Rose, Isaac Wilson, Luke Bottari and Steve Smedley.

Rose was trending to be QB2 after spring practice, and started fall camp in pole position, though Barnes emerged as a contender for the job during fall camp. Rose was injured during a fall scrimmage and missed about two months, and Utah and Rose decided it was in the quarterback’s best interest to take a medical redshirt. To obtain the medical redshirt, he was unable to play a snap this season.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman has been on campus since 2022, and has not seen game action yet, but Rose has been running the scout team in practice in each of the last two seasons. Next season will be Rose’s third season at Utah, making him — along with Bottari — the most veteran of Utah’s backups next year.

In Utah’s 2023 spring game, Rose displayed his arm talent, completing 19 of 24 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown, After two years learning Ludwig’s system, the former three-star prospect will certainly be one of the favorites to win the QB2 job.

Wilson, a four-star prospect, led Corner Canyon to a 6A state title this season, throwing for 4,595 yards, 49 touchdowns and nine interceptions on a 67% completion rate this season.

The 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback and younger brother to former BYU and current New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, had surgery to remove bone fragments from his knee three games into his senior season, according to his mom, Lisa, but was able to play in every game for Corner Canyon.

Wilson will get offseason knee surgery and will enroll in January at the University of Utah, he said in a recent interview with ESPN 700’s Bill Riley.

“I’ll be rehabbing as much as possible, enrolling in school, getting with the team during spring ball, trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can and learn from Cam, of course, of what he knows, all the ins and outs of Utah football. But I just can’t wait to get up there and prove myself,” Wilson said.

Corner Canyon’s Isaac Wilson committed to Utah last week and is one of the top prospects in the state of Utah in the 2024 recruiting class.
Corner Canyon’s Isaac Wilson, looks to pass as Skyridge and Corner Canyon play a football game in Lehi on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. Corner Canyon won 21-17. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News