News came out this week that Conner Manning had left the Utah football program after three seasons, with only one forgettable appearance. With Manning's departure, Utah heads into 2016 with just two players, Brandon Cox and Chase Hansen, who have attempted a pass in a Utah uniform. Between the two, they are a combined 3-4 for 17 yards. Needless to say the quarterback position heading into next year is a huge question mark, although Utah should have quite a bit of talent to choose from in picking Travis Wilson's replacement. Here's a brief look at Utah's candidates for quarterback heading into 2016.
Chase Hansen, RS Sophomore, 6-3 216 lbs.
Highly recruited coming out of high school, Chase Hansen redshirted for the Utes in 2012 before serving his two year mission. Hansen returned to the Utes last season and started off the year at the quarterback position, where he quickly rose to no. 3 on the depth chart during spring ball. During the beginning of the regular season, Hansen played sparingly at quarterback, mostly in running packages, but did attempt a single pass which fell incomplete.
Hansen made the move to safety midway through the season, where he found success quickly. He rose to the top spot on Utah's depth chart at safety, outplaying Las Vegas Bowl MVP Tevin Carter in practice, and made his first start against Washington. Hansen suffered a season ending injury on the final play against the Huskies in Seattle, but managed eleven tackles, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup in his lone start.
Heading into next season, head coach Kyle Whittingham has said Hansen has a decision on whether to play safety or quarterback heading into 2016. Hansen has a great combination of size and speed and is an athletic playmaker as he proved this season at safety. Heading into next season it seems likely he will end up on defense, as many of the best Whittingham coached athletes do. The only scenario in which Hansen ends up playing offense is if he turns out to be by far and away the best option at the quarterback position. If any of the other quarterbacks show equal ability or are even close, Hansen will be a starter at safety in 2016.
Brandon Cox, RS Junior, 6-2 200 lbs.
Cox arrived in the spring of 2013, enrolling early to participate in spring ball. He redshirted his first season, before finding the only playing time of his career thus far against Idaho State in 2014. He completed three of three passes for 17 yards and ran the ball twice for 22 yards, including a touchdown his only appearance. Last season he was vying for a spot on the three-deep before breaking his foot in spring ball.
Cox will be in his fourth season with the program when spring ball kicks off in 2016, giving him the longest tenure of any of the quarterback candidates. Cox is mostly known for his legs and ability scramble, but he can also throw the ball pretty well. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick has noted Cox's intelligence in the past as well, comparing him to former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson.
Cox has stuck it out through thick and thin with Utah, patiently awaiting his chance. With 100% of Utah's passing offense needing to be replaced, Cox will get his opportunity to impress the coaches this offseason. It's easy to pull for Cox because of how long he has been a part of the program and the attitude he has kept while waiting for his time. Who starts will come down to who plays the best however, and if Cox wants to start he'll have to hold off the next guy on this list.
Troy Williams, Redshirt Junior (JC Transfer), 6-2 194 lbs.
Troy Williams is Utah's highly anticipated quarterback recruit, who most expect to earn the starting job come opening week 2016. Williams was rated the no.1 dual-threat quarterback recruit coming out of high school at Narbonne High in California. Williams was heavily recruited before deciding to play under former USC and Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington.
Williams started one game during his time at Washington and struggled, throwing for only 139 yards and two interceptions in a wet game against Arizona State at Husky Stadium. When Sarkisian left and Chris Peterson took over at Washington, Williams ended up transferring to Santa Monica junior college, saying he wasn't a "good fit" with Peterson.
In Santa Monica, Williams has found the success many thought he was destined for, accounting for 38 total touchdowns this past season. Williams comes to Utah with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove: that he can play quarterback in the Pac-12. Despite being known as a dual threat, Williams is most comfortable throwing out of the pocket and only using his legs when he needs to evade pressure. Williams won't be handed the starting job, he'll have to earn it. But if he can harness the natural ability that earned him the four star rating out of high school, it will not be surprising to see Troy Williams lining up under center against Southern Utah on September 1st.
Tyler Huntley, Freshman, 6-2 185 lbs.
Utah will welcome their newest freshman quarterback when Tyler Huntley steps on campus in a few weeks as an early enrollee. Huntley passed for 3,636 yards and 42 touchdowns this season as a senior at Florida's Hallandale High School. In the process, Huntley's play guided his team to a 10-3 finish and Hallandale's deepest postseason run in school history. In recognition of the outstanding year Huntley had, he was awarded Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year, an award which has been given to the likes of Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, Willis McGahee, Anquan Boldin and Emmitt Smith among others.
Much like Williams, Huntley is a dual threat quarterback that looks to throw first, using his mobility only when he needs or is asked to. Huntley shows good movement in the pocket and is an accurate thrower, earning some comparison's to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Huntley did some recruiting work for Utah already, bringing high school teammates, receiver Demari Simpkins and running back Zack Moss with him to Salt Lake City.
Kyle Whittingham has shown he is willing to give true freshman a shot behind center, as both Jordan Wynn and Travis Wilson started multiple games as true freshman. Huntley has the talent, setting a state single game record this past season when he threw 71 times for 468 yards. Huntley will get a fair chance to show what he can do and if he plays well enough, could earn the starting roll, as Wynn eventually did over Terrance Cain in 2009.
What do you think? Do you have a preference of who you would like to see as Utah's starting quarterback in 2016?