QB Rising Still On the Mend
Overlook the Utah Utes at your own risk. Other Pac-12 teams usually get more buzz on a national level, but Utah is the two-time defending Pac-12 champion and have made it into the Pac-12 Championship Game four times in the last five years.
Right on cue, the college football predictions have the Utah Utes with the fourth-best odds to win the Pac-12 in what is likely the last year of the conference thanks to the chaos generated by conference realignment.
When it comes to the NCAA football picks, Utah received six first-place votes and finished behind Southern California and Washington in the Pac-12 preseason poll.
Utah has the No. 3-rated recruiting class among Pac-12 teams with offensive linemen Spencer Fano and Caleb Lomu joining defensive backs CJ Blocker and Smith Snowden as the top incoming freshmen.
The Utes were one of four Pac-12 teams with fewer than 10 incoming transfers.
Auburn tight end Landen King, Florida State receiver Mycah Pittman (32 catches), Indiana receiver Emery Simmons (37 catches), Ole Miss cornerback Miles Battle (38 tackles, four pass breakups), Brigham Young edge rusher Logan Fano, and Stanford linebacker Levani Damuni (76 tackles) are the top players transferring to Utah.
Linebacker Andrew Mataafa (South Florida), offensive lineman Paul Malle (BYU), and running back Ricky Parks are among the players who headed elsewhere.
- 2022 record: 10-4
- 2022 Pac-12 record: 7-2
- Head coach: Kyle Whittingham
- Odds to win conference title: +600
If quarterback Cameron Rising was healthy, Utah would probably be a few spots higher in the preseason rankings and in this countdown of the top 25 teams in the country.
Rising suffered a serious knee injury in the Rose Bowl. Rising completed 64.7% of his passes for 3,034 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions and was fourth on the team with 465 rushing yards.
Rising is 18-7 in his two seasons as Utah’s starter. He is still limited in practice.
Leading rusher Tavion Thomas is gone, but Utah was 3-1 in the games that Thomas didn’t play in 2022. Micah Bernard and Ja’Quinden Jackson combined for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns with Bernard adding 34 catches.
The transfer portal was beneficial in restocking the group of pass catchers, with tight end and leading receiver Dalton Kincaid off to the NFL.
Devaughn Vele, Money Parks, and tight end Thomas Yassmin could have larger roles in 2023. The player to keep an eye on is tight end Brant Kuithe, who had 19 catches and three touchdowns in just four games in 2022.
Eight of the 10 offensive linemen on the two-deep chart at the end of the 2022 season return and that includes starters Keaton Billis, Michael Mokofisi, and Sataoa Laumea.
The defense will certainly miss All-American cornerback Clark Phillips. Safety and leading tackler Cole Bishop is back. Lander Barton, JaTravis Broughton, Connor O’Toole, KareneReid, Sione Vaki, and Junior Tafuna are among the returnees, so Utah could have one of the better defenses in the Pac-12 yet again before heading to the Big 12.
The battle should step right in at cornerback. Safety Nate Ritchie is back after spending the last two years on a church mission while Tafuna figures to be one of the better interior defensive linemen in the conference. Don’t be surprised to see Jonah Elliss top his 2022 numbers of six tackles for loss and three sacks. The linebacking position will be aided by the arrival of Damuni, Stanford’s top tackler in 2022.
Colorado transfer Cole Becker had 11 field goals a season ago and he also had 34 touchbacks on 46 kickoffs. Punter Bouwmeester returns as he looks to top last year’s 39.2 average.
Those who bet online might want to keep in mind that Utah covered in four of the first five games in 2022, but finished the season 4-5 against the spread.
Eight of the 14 games, including the last two, finished over the total.
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Utah finds a way to win, especially at home – the Utes were 6-0 at home a season ago.
Utah finished in the top three in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the six seasons and could easily repeat that feat in 2023. Replacing Kincaid will be no easy task, but there is some depth at both tight end and receiver for Rising to work with once he is cleared to play.
Utah is not taking the easy way out with the first two games coming at home against Florida and on the road versus Baylor. The second game will be a sign of things to come with the Utes headed to the Big 12 after the implosion of the Pac-12.
Conference play begins with a challenging matchups with UCLA and Oregon State. Back-to-back contests against Southern California and Oregon could be rather daunting, as could a trip to Washington. Ending the regular season against Colorado could also be tricky as new Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders will have had the entire season to work in all the players he brought in. Having a bye week after the Oregon State game could be just what the doctor ordered.
The Utes are listed by the college football spreads as 7½-point favorites in the season opener against Florida. The teams played an entertaining game in the 2022 opener with Florida winning 29-26.
Could Utah defy expectations once again? Utah is priced at +110 to top 8½ regular-season wins and -140 to finish under that total. What happens in the Florida and Baylor games could decide which side of the ledger that Utah falls on.
- Aug. 31 vs Florida
- Sept. 9 at Baylor
- Sept. 16 vs Weber State
- Sept. 23 vs UCLA
- Sept. 29 at Oregon State
- Oct. 14 vs California
- Oct. 21 at Southern California
- Oct. 28 vs Oregon
- Nov. 4 vs Arizona State
- Nov. 11 at Washington
- Nov. 18 at Arizona
- Nov. 24 vs Colorado