Utah Football Took Advantage Of The NCAA Transfer Portal

Knowing there would be a lot of questions marks entering the upcoming season, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff went to work in the NCAA Transfer Portal and emerged with arguably their most talented team ever
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It's widely agreed upon throughout the entire college football landscape that Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is ranked among the top coaches in the nation. 

Dec 6, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham] before the Pac-12 Conference championship game against the Oregon Ducks at Levi's Stadium.

Part of what has made Whittingham so successful has been his recent ability to adapt to the changing of times. 

Long gone are the days where a power running team would hold the ball for 40 minutes and win a game by the score of 13-10. College football now is based a lot upon speed and athleticism, exposing mismatches and lighting up the scoreboard. 

Alabama's Nick Saban recently underwent a total revamp of his offense, moving to a faster-paced, spread option with a dual-threat quarterback such as Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa leading the way.

And now Whittingham is doing the same thing — but he's achieving those goals differently.

Rather than recruit differently — which he's starting do now — Whittingham and his staff went to the NCAA Transfer Portal to change the makeup of the Utes immediately.

Nov 28, 2020; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Charlie Brewer (5) rolls out against the Kansas State Wildcats during the first quarter at McLane Stadium.

In an incredible feat, Utah went out and landed SEVEN transfers from an NCAA Division I program — all of whom are expected to be eligible immediately.

“If you were a college football player in the transfer portal this spring, you likely made your way to Utah,” Pro Football Focus wrote. “An incredible seven Division I players transferred to the Utes, all from Power Five conferences. They have landed offensive weapons such as Theo Howard, T.J. Pledger, and Chris Curry."

Leading the way is former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer, a graduate transfer who took nearly all the snaps with the No. 1 offense this past spring and summer. With former starter Cam Rising recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Brewer was able to reap the benefits of his time with teammates and now set the stage for what should be an intense QB battle.

“Furthermore, former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer is the addition that could truly ignite this Utes program," PFF added. "If Brewer can return to the form that made Baylor a Big 12 contender in 2019, then Utah could be a surprise contender in the Pac-12."

Oct 31, 2020; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back TJ Pledger (5) rushes against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium.

Following the tragic death of star running back Ty Jordan on Christmas night, the Utes were in desperate need of some running back depth. Including Jordan, Utah's top three running backs to start the 2020 season were no longer on the roster.

So Whittingham went out and added TJ Pledger of Oklahoma and Chris Curry of LSU to the roster. 

“They’ve been in programs that have been very successful. They’re good players. That’s something we desperately needed to add to the room — more talent,” Whittingham said. “The transition they’ve made has been really good. They know the deal in big-time college football. They’ve been there, done that. This is nothing new to them and so far they fit right in.”

Pledger spent the last three seasons suiting up for the Sooners, where he emerged as a dynamite runner but never fully reached his potential. He finished his career with 135 carries for 695 yards and 6 touchdowns, adding 11 catches for 89 yards.

This past season was his best when he ran for 451 yards and five touchdowns on 95 carries, adding nine catches for 77 yards.

Curry brings size and strength to a running backs room that was lacking in both areas. Listed at 5-foot-11, 216 pounds, Curry spent the last few seasons at LSU where he backed up Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2019 and split time as a trio of runners last year.

Throughout is career, Curry ran for 336 yards on 91 carries, adding four receptions for 33 yards.

Obviously his size stands out immediately, but his ability to run through tackles and carry defenders for extra yards is something Utah fans should be excited. Those third-and-short and goal-to-go scenarios just got a lot easier with the addition of Curry.

“Chris is a big, physical kid that runs downhill. We paid a lot of attention to that game that he had against Oklahoma,” Utah running backs coach Kiel McDonald said. “You saw that he got stronger and stronger as the game went on. I think that fits who we are and who we’ve been. ... Big, tough, physical guys that can have some run after contact.”

Dec 28, 2019; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; LSU Tigers running back Chris Curry (24) reacts after a run during the 2019 Peach Bowl college football playoff semifinal game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Other additions on offense include former Texas quarterback Ja'Quinden Jackson — who might have the brightest future of anyone on the roster — Oklahoma wide receiver Theo Howard and the return of Jaylen Dixon.

But it wasn't the just the offense that got better. 

Utah was able to add a pair of former Washington Huskies in linebacker Josh Calvert and safety Brandon McKinney. Altogether that's eight players with legitimate Division I experience suiting up for the Utes this season, many of whom could be significant difference-makers. 

Jan 1, 2019; Pasadena, CA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Brandon McKinney (11) tackles Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Parris Campbell (21)in the 2019 Rose Bowl at Rose Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

So while Whittingham may be considered one of the best in the nation, there's still one glaring mark on his resume. What's keeping him from being considered among the top five best coaches in the country is the fact that he's yet to win a Pac-12 title.

He's 11-3 in bowl games with victories in the Fiesta and Sugar Bowl — but the Rose Bowl appearance (and victory) remains elusive. And now thanks to a change in philosophy and a way of getting the players he wants, Whittingham might just finally get over that hump and end up where he belongs.

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