The criminally underrated University of Utah football team won its first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game last season and also appeared in its first Rose Bowl, although that ended in disappointment. Still, a fine 10-win season for Coach Kyle Whittingham’s club. What to expect this year? For your favorite betting odds College Football.
Utah had reached the Pac-12 title game twice previously but lost. This time, the Utes routed No. 10 Oregon 38-10. In doing so, Utah became the first FBS team since Texas (2005) to beat the same opponent by 25-plus points in both the regular season and conference championship during the same season. The Utes had previously beaten Oregon 38-7 in Salt Lake City. It was Utah’s first conference title since it won the Mountain West in 2008, also marking the sixth 10-win season under the direction of Kyle Whittingham.
In the Rose Bowl, the Utes lost 48-45 to a stellar Ohio State team. OSU had to rally from 10 points down late in the third quarter to get past the Utes, who got off to an electrifying 35-point first half in their first school’s first trip to the Rose Bowl. They even stayed competitive after star quarterback Cameron Rising went down with an injury while getting sacked with 9:56 to play. The Utes had to turn to backup Bryson Barnes. He led them on a tying drive, capped by a 15-yard TD pass to Dalton Kincaid with 1:54 left.
The 2022 Utes will be a preseason Top 10 team with 17 starters back, including nine All-Pac-12 performers. That group is led by the QB Rising. He was first-team All-Pac 12 last year, seeing action in 13 games and staring the final 11. Rising finished 204-of-320 passing (5 INT, 20 TDs) for 2,493 yards, adding 74 carries for 499 rushing yards (6.7 ypc) and six rushing touchdowns. He ranked fourth in total offensive TDs (18), third in passing yards per game (214.1), third in passing efficiency (145.74) and second in passing yards per completion (12.76) in Pac-12 games only.
Top running back Tavion Thomas also returns. He led the team with 204 carries for 1,108 yards (5.4 ypc) and 21 touchdowns. Thomas ranked third in the FBS and led the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns. In Pac-12 games, only Thomas led the league in touchdowns (16) also ranking second in rushing yards per game (105.6).
Utah will return three of its five starting offensive linemen in Keaton Bills (LG), Sataoa Laumea (RG) and Braeden Daniels (RT), along with Jaren Kump (LT/RT), who started all five games in 2020 and in four in 2021 before suffering a season-ending injury. Out of the 3,000 receiving yards in 2021, 2,111 will return in 2022, including 1,121 returning from tight ends Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid (37%).
If the Utes are going to repeat as Pac-12 champions, they’re going to have to rebuild a defense that lost many of its top playmakers, including All-American linebacker Devin Lloyd. Last year, Utah was one of just two Power Five programs to finish the season in the top 20 in the FBS in both rushing offense and rushing defense (Baylor). Utah ranked 13th in rushing offense (216.8) and 19th in rushing defense (119.4). Utah’s front seven was relentless on defense with the Utes ranking 19th in team sacks (3.00) and 21st in team tackles for loss (6.9) per game in the country.
Kyle Whittingham is the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and the second-longest tenured coach at the same school in the NCAA FBS. He is 144-70 overall at Utah, becoming the all-time wins leader at Utah in 2021. The Utes have made the final AP Top 25 seven times and the final Coaches Poll eight times under Whittingham.
Out of conference, Utah opens at Florida on Sept. 3 and actually is a 2.5-point favorite in Gainesville, which is rare. It’s first time the Utes will play an SEC opponent since Utah beat Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. The last time the Utes played an SEC opponent in the regular season was a 1984 road loss to Tennessee. Florida finished last season with a 6-7 record and has a new coach in Billy Napier.
Utah then hosts Southern Utah and San Diego State and should win both of those, although SDSU is no pushover. In conference, the Utes host USC but visit Oregon – those are the two other top challengers for the Pac-12 title. There are no divisions any longer in the conference.
Utah Expert Prediction: 9-3, return to Pac-12 title game
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