Another Saturday, another major injury to one of the Pac-12’s top tight ends.

Two weeks after Oregon State was dealt a sustained blow with the indefinite loss of star Luke Musgrave, the No. 11 Utah Utes lost one of the league’s best players in Brant Kuithe, who suffered a knee injury in a 34-13 win at Arizona State that might knock him out for the season. The Utes’ win might just end up a pyrrhic victory if indeed Kuithe is gone for good.

The loss of two of the league’s top players changes the trajectory for both teams, who meet on Saturday in Salt Lake City. It also changes the tenor of the Week 5 matchup, which would’ve been a classic battle of old school-meets-new school football.

Instead we’re left wondering what if. And what’s to come.

My, what the Beavers could have done with Musgrave last Saturday against a susceptible USC defensive interior. Instead of featuring its best pass-catcher, Oregon State was dealt a 17-14 loss at home, with Chance Nolan’s security blanket being handed off to a freshman, Jack Velling, who had just 1 catch for 9 yards.

My, what the Utes could’ve done to the rest of the Pac-12 schedule with Kuithe in the fold, teaming with Dalton Kincaid to provide Cameron Rising with the best 1-2 punch at the position in all of college football.

My, what we could’ve done as Pac-12 football fans, given the fortune of watching a pair of potential long-time pros.


There was a time when tight ends were just glorified offensive tackles, only the rarest of the rare are able to combine top-flight athleticism and superhuman blocking ability. It’s not that they didn’t exist, it’s just they were not particularly high on the football pecking order.

For decades at all levels of the game, the position commanded far less respect than its running back and wide receiver brethren — from fans, opposing coaches, the media. Just 9 tight ends have earned enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; for comparison, 29 wide receivers have been so honored.

The Pac-12, though has been ahead of the curve at the position for years.

It starts with the king, of course, Cal’s Tony Gonzalez, who set the standard for the position for eternity, first for the Bears in the mid-90s and then in the NFL for more than 15 years. And then there was UCLA’s Marcedes Lewis, who begat Arizona State’s Zach Miller, who begat USC’s Fred Davis, who begat Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski, who begat Oregon Ed Dickson, who begat Stanford’s Coby Fleener, who begat Stanford’s Zach Ertz, who begat Stanford’s Austin Hooper, who begat Stanford’s Dalton Schultz, who begat UCLA’s Greg Dulcich.

All that is to say: Yeah, tight ends are important in the Pac-12, perhaps more important than anywhere.

And that’s why the loss of the league’s two best threatens to upend the conference title race.


The first one to fall was Musgrave, who went down in the Beavers’ Week 2 win over Fresno State.

After catching just 19 passes in 13 games last year, the Oregon State junior had blossomed into the team’s top threat in the passing game. In a Week 1 34-17 win over Boise State, Musgrave had 6 grabs for 89 yards and a touchdown.

“Got him the ball early, which was intentional,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said after the Week 1 win. “First play of the game got him a touch. And then he really got us kick-started on the first touchdown pass, which was a contested play. He needs to be a part. If we can continue to make him a factor it helps out everybody else.”

Before being injured against the Bulldogs, Musgrave had 5 catches for 80 yards. It was clear the role he’d cornered in the Oregon State offense.

When asked about the injury,  Smith said that it wasn’t season-ending, but not to expect Musgrave back anytime soon.

At least the Beavers are holding out hope for a Musgrave’s imminent return.

The Utes don’t appear so lucky.


Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters after the Utes’ 34-13 win over Arizona State that Kuithe’s reported knee injury “doesn’t look good.” Kuithe was sidelined in the first quarter against the Sun Devils, then tended to in the tent for nearly a half-hour, before being carted off the field to the consternation of Utes fans everywhere.

None more so than his head coach.

“I just feel horrible for the kid,” Whittingham said. “Such a great teammate, he’s a leader, he’s a captain, came back for another year to be with his team and help us win. So we’ll hope for the best; it’s not definitive, but, like I said, it doesn’t look good.”

Whittingham’s dismay is understandable. Kuithe’s production for the Utes has been terrific — a team-leading 611 yards in 2021 and a team-leading 602 yards in 2019 — but his impact goes far beyond his yardage or touchdowns. He’s been a steady presence for the Utes for years.

In his absence, Kincaid will see an increase in attention from both Rising and opposing defenses, while the Utes will turn to Australian former rugby player Thomas Yassmin to spell Kincaid and in two-tight end sets.

“He’s gonna be the No. 1 guy inside and then we’re gonna be looking for him to produce,” Rising said of Kincaid. “He’s gonna have a great amount of production because of it.”


Neither team has a particularly favorable schedule, but Utah’s immediate future is especially bleak, with a pair of road games at UCLA and Washington State sandwiching a home test against No. 7 USC.

So we might not find out the true ramifications of the loss of these twin tight-end towers for weeks.

Or we could find out Saturday.

We’ll know if either Nolan or Rising feels comfortable attacking the middle of the field without their veteran leaders. We’ll know if Whittingham shows the same willingness to play power football, even with arguably his toughest player knocked out for what we assume is a long stretch, if not for good.

We’ll know because we’ll see with our eyes what is, instead of what could’ve been — a battle between two of the league’s best players.