Utah’s #22Forever Game on Saturday — the Utes’ renamed Spring game, honoring fallen teammates Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan, who both sported the No. 22 jersey — will go down as one of the most crucial April days in the Pac-12.

While programs across the country treat their Spring showcases with all the seriousness of a carnival sideshow, Kyle Whittingham has a crucial task ahead of him: Figuring out who just might be the most important backup quarterback in the country.

Reports out of Salt Lake City on Cam Rising are promising, but his return from a torn ACL suffered in the Rose Bowl is no sure thing. Whittingham has told reporters that Rising could be back for the start of the season, but he’s been known to play his cards close to the vest.

If Rising can’t go, or if Whittingham decides to play it cautiously with his fantastic veteran quarterback, either redshirt freshman Brandon Rose, junior Bryson Barnes or redshirt freshman Nate Johnson assumes the mantle.

Saturday is their chance to head into the summer with a leg up. Between that leg and Rising’s, Utah is in a precarious spot.

Not that it’s anything new for Whittingham.

Maybe the most generous descriptions of the Utes’ pass offense during the Pac-12 era is this: They’ve made do.

Since Utah entered the conference in 2011, the Utes have had precisely 2 All-Pac-12 quarterbacks: Tyler Huntley in 2019 and Rising in 2021. In the same span, the Utes have had 7 all-league running backs and 16 defensive linemen and have gone 96-54, averaging 8 wins a season, with at least 9 wins in each of the past 4 full seasons. So something is working.

Just not always the passing game. Simply put, we know what butters the Utes’ bread, and it’s not a prolific passing attack.

In 2011, Jon Hays led the Utes with 1,459 yards, 12 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Travis Wilson had 1,311 yards and 7 scores with 6 picks a year later, then followed up with 1,827 yards, 16 scores and 16 picks as a sophomore in 2013. He finally settled in as a junior in 2014, passing for 2,170 yards and 18 touchdowns with 5 interceptions, before regressing the next season with 2,093 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Troy Williams followed Wilson and managed 2,757 yards, 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, but in 2017, he ceded to Huntley, who had 2,411 yards, 15 scores and 10 picks before coming back a year later to throw for 1,788 yards and 12 touchdowns with 6 picks. Huntley earned all-league status in 2019 with what was then a banner year for the Utes, completing 73.1% of his passes for 3,092 yards and 19 touchdowns with 4 interceptions and setting a new standard at the position.

Then Rising transferred in from Texas, seized the Utes’ starting job early in the 2021 season and never looked back.

After earning 1st team all-league honors in 2021 with 2,493 passing yards and 20 touchdowns with 5 interceptions, Rising passed for 3,034 yards, 26 scores and 8 interceptions last year. The 26 touchdowns were Utah’s most since Brian Johnson had 27 in 2008 and 6th-highest in program history.

His return this year is the difference between a potential 3rd straight Pac-12 title and massive disappointment.

Which brings us back to Saturday.

Heading into the Spring game, Rose has taken the lead for the No. 2 spot, followed by Barnes, who has played in 10 games in his Utah career, with 430 passing yards and 4 touchdowns with 2 interceptions. He’s relieved Rising in each of the last two Rose Bowl games with middling success. Then there’s Johnson, who may be the most talented of the trio yet missed a chunk of spring ball because of injury.

On Tuesday, KSL Sports’ Michelle Bodkin reported that Whittingham provided a spring update on the backup quarterback shuffle just days away from the game.

“Brandon Rose, I think, we’ll have to watch the tape, but it appeared he had his best day of (camp) today,” Whittingham said. “He’s continuing to separate himself. Nothing is settled or definitive at this point. We did see Nate Johnson back on the field today and overall, it was a very good practice.”

Whittingham told reporters that it was Rose’s poise in inclement weather that he appreciated most.

“He did a nice job handling the elements — it was windy out here but he still completed a bunch of balls,” Whittingham said. “He did a much better job taking charge in the huddle, having that leadership air to him and being a guy who showed a lot of confidence today.”

If he does it again Saturday, Utah fans should breathe a sigh of relief heading into the summer.

They may have found their man.

Or, at least, the man until The Man returns.