Fresh off winning back-to-back Pac-12 South titles, the Utah Utes secured their highest-rated crop of freshmen and transfers to date with their latest recruiting class. Utah's 2020 class was ranked 29th overall by 247Sports. It could hold an important key to the Utes not falling back to the middle of the pack this fall.
Utah must replace numerous defensive starters and will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new featured running back with Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss graduating. It means plenty of opportunities are there for new faces in the program to rise up and become impact players from Day One.
A few newcomers, in particular, are poised to make their mark in their debut seasons with the Utes:
Cameron Rising, QB
Finding a new quarterback who can match Huntley's efficiency in running the offense is a top priority for the Utes. Rising may fit the blueprint of what Utah's offense needs to flourish. He originally spent a season at Texas before transferring to the Utes and sitting out during the 2019 season. Rising is a pro-style quarterback who has a strong arm. He ran the scout team in practices last season and excited Utah coaches with his decision-making and his natural talent. Rising is the front-runner to become the starter if a featured running back emerges as a star in a crowded backfield.
Clark Phillips III, CB
Utah must replace all five starting defensive backs from a year ago. Phillips gives the Utes an instant star at cornerback. He chose the Utes over Ohio State during the early signing period in December and became the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with the school. The 5-foot-10 freshman held offers from 36 programs and was rated the No. 4 cornerback in the nation by 247 Sports. He saw time at both cornerback and wide receiver at La Habra (Calif) High School. Over his final two seasons, Phillips totaled 46 tackles, six interceptions and 17 passes defended. On offense, he added 84 catches for 1,645 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Jake Bentley, QB
It isn't a foregone conclusion that Rising will earn the starting quarterback nod in 2020. Bentley has the credentials to seize the job himself if Utah opts for a more pass-heavy approach this season. Bentley, a graduate transfer from South Carolina, threw for a total of 7,527 yards and 55 touchdowns over four seasons with the Gamecocks. He made 33 starts but played in only one game in 2019 due to a season-ending injury. Bentley posted a 19-14 record as a starter and ranks second in South Carolina history with a 62.5 percent career completion rate. He also ranked third in career passing touchdowns and fourth in career passing yards with the Gamecocks.
Van Fillinger, DE
Signing Fillinger should help the Utes continue to reload on the defensive line even after graduating three starters. Filinger, the No. 2 overall recruit in the state of Utah, originally committed to Texas before switching to Utah. He helped Corner Canyon (Utah) High School go 37-1 during his high school career, leading the Chargers to state titles in 2018 and '19. Over three seasons with Corner Canyon, Fillinger totaled 188 tackles. He had 37.0 TFLs and 22.5 sacks during those three years. He also showcased his strength and power by winning the 6A shot put title as a senior in 2019.
Xavier Carlton, DE
Fillinger isn't the only highly-rated recruit poised to make a splash on the defensive line. Carlton figures to also be in the mix in his first season. Carlton ranked as the no. 3 overall prospect in the state of Utah. He played one season with Juan Diego Catholic (Utah) High School after transferring from Modesto Christian (Calif.) High School where he played for three seasons. Carlton tallied 91 tackles and 8.0 sacks during his lone season at Juan Diego. During his final two seasons at Modesto Christian, he totaled 163 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.