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Troy Williams might have early 'leg up' in Utah QB competition

As expected, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was reluctant to offer any sort of handicap about his team's upcoming quarterback competition. Coaches enjoy answering questions about quarterback competitions the way Stanford's David Shaw enjoys answering questions about the Wildcat.

But Whittingham did offer a nugget that might help determine a pecking order as the Utes head into spring football later next month. A trio of quarterbacks -- Brandon Cox, Troy Williams and Tyler Huntley -- will look to replace Travis Wilson, who accounted for 75 touchdowns (54 throwing, 21 rushing) during his four-year career.

Cox is the veteran backup entering his fourth season with the program. Williams is the former Washington Husky who comes to the Utes by way of Santa Monica College. And Huntley is the freshman, already on campus, who is bursting with athletic potential.

But it's Williams who, according to Whittingham, might have an early "leg up." Williams appeared in five games and started one for Washington in 2014, completing 23 of 36 passes for 176 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for the season. He did rush for one touchdown.

Though his Pac-12 experience is limited, it might be enough to make him the guy to beat. (Note: Utah does not allow new players to speak to the media before spring ball).

"He's been there, done that," Whittingham said. "None of this is new to him. Experience is always a great thing to have in a quarterback. He knows the ins and outs of Division I football. He knows what the drill is. He understands the competition level. That gives him a leg up on the other two."

Competition might be the key word. Because according to Gifford Lindheim, who coached Williams at Santa Monica College last season, a competitive environment is where Williams thrives.

"This guy is a top-notch competitor," said Lindheim. "I've never seen a guy with more desire to win. That's what makes him special. He can spin the ball and he can lead a team. But his competitive nature is what will separate him on any team at any level."

Competitive spirit at the quarterback position was never Utah's problem. In fact, the outgoing Wilson had plenty of that with some to spare. It was actual production at the position that caused Utah's offense to fizzle. Wilson's career completion percentage was 60.5 percent. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah has ranked 11th in total offense three times and last twice. They've been last in passing offense three of the past five seasons (11th in 2015 and ninth in 2013).

Cox has plenty of practice in the system, but he hasn't been able to ascend the pecking order of Utah's quarterbacks. Huntley (who Whittingham said is "absolutely a quarterback" despite being listed as an "athlete" by most recruiting services) is an exciting player but "needs experience and to put on weight" according to Whittingham.

That makes Williams the most game-ready of the three. All parties say his departure from Washington was amicable and beneficial to both sides. A lot of phrases like "didn't mesh," "didn't work out" and "wasn't a good fit" have been tossed around. Interpret that as you will.

The Huskies seem like they are in good shape for the future and Utah needs to re-shape its future offensively. The pairing makes sense.

"He was looking for situation where he fit the pieces around him and he wanted to compete," Lindheim said. "He wanted to get back in the Pac-12 and compete for a starting position. From the coaching staff to the direction of the program, it was clear very early in the recruiting process this was a good marriage.

"He's got great mechanics. He's a hard worker. He can put the ball wherever he wants to put it. He can run with the football. He's as talented as a quarterback at this level -- at a junior college level -- as I've seen in a long time."