Utah is coming off a season when the Utes led the Pac-12 in rushing offense, finished second in scoring offense, and third in total offense. There are enough returning players for this to be one of the top offensive teams in the conference once again.
Replacing all-everything linebacker Devin Lloyd won’t be easy and there were other key losses on defense so that is where most of the questions are about this Utah team.
Utah (+225) is second in the odds to win the Pac-12 championship. Those odds have moved from +325 since early June and the Utes are challenging USC for the title of preseason conference favorite according to the college football lines.
Utah (+5000) is tied for ninth in college football odds to win the national championship according to the sportsbook.
- 2021 record: 10-4
- 2021 conference record: 8-1
- Head coach: Kyle Whittingham
- Odds to win conference title: +225
When a team brings back the top rusher, passer, and receiver from 14th-ranked scoring offense in the country, there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
The list of returning FBS players who had more than 1,000 rushing yards, at least 20 TD runs while averaging more than five yards per carry is a rather short one and includes leading rusher Tavion Thomas.
Thomas missed one game and was limited to a total of nine carries during a three-game stretch early in the season. If that wasn’t the case, he might have been the leading rusher in the Pac-12.
Second-leading rusher TJ Pledger is now with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Micah Bernard and Chris Curry also return after combining for 609 yards a season ago.
Quarterback Cameron Rising is one of the best-kept secrets in the Pac-12. He threw for 2493 yards, completed 64 percent of his passes with 20 touchdown passes and just five interceptions. He added 499 rushing yards and six more TDs on the ground. Those are pretty good numbers for a player who wasn’t the starter until the third game of the season. He had six TD passes and two interceptions while completing 63.5 percent of his passes in four games against ranked teams during his first season as the starting quarterback. Reserve Bryson Barnes is also back for Utah.
Brant Kuithe, who led Utah with 50 catches and 611 receiving yards, and Dalton Kincaid (36 catches, 510 yards, team-high eight touchdowns) gives Rising a pair of talented tight ends to throw to. Receivers Devaughn Vele (23 catches, 389 yards), Solomon Enis, and Jaylen Dixon will be coming back as well. Utah did add former Idaho fullback/tight end Logan Kendall. The 270-pound Kendall was known more for his blocking with the Vandals but he did have 16 career catches.
Utah returns starting offensive linemen Keaton Bills, Braeden Daniels, and Sataoa Laumea so there are a couple of spots open.
It might be easier to list the things that linebacker Devin Lloyd didn’t do for the defense than the things that he did accomplish because the first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft was involved in every aspect of the defense. He is impossible to replace but Utah will need to adjust to the departure of its defensive star.
Second-leading tackler Nephi Sewell is also gone as are safeties Brandon McKinney and Vontae Davis leaving Utah without its top four tacklers from a season ago.
Cornerback Clark Phillips (62 tackles, 13 pass breakups, two interceptions) and safety Cole Bishop (55 tackles and nine tackles for loss) are back to lead the secondary.
Let’s gooo @ClarkPhillips21
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) August 1, 2022
Junior Tafuna, a 300-pound defensive tackle, and linebacker Karene Reid also return as does defensive end Van Fillinger. There were 13 freshmen who had at least 10 tackles a season ago so there are players available to fill the spots of the departing players.
Linebackers Mohamoud Diabate (89 tackles) and Gabe Reid (62 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) come in from Florida and Stanford. Former Illinois State safety Clayton Isbell (58 tackles, three INTs in nine games) could also make an immediate impact on the rebuilt defense.
Michael Williams (44.3 yards on eight punts as a sophomore) and Jadon Redding (10 of 14 on-field goals) both return. The Utes will miss Britain Covey, the team’s second-leading receiver who also returned two punts for touchdowns and brought back a kickoff for another score. Covey is now with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
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It shouldn’t take long to figure out where the 2022 Utah team is thanks to a season-opening test at Florida. The college football picks list the reigning Pac-12 champions as a 2½-point favorite. Another intriguing non-conference game comes against San Diego State before the Utes head into conference play.
Back-to-back games against UCLA and Southern California will be no easy task. The bye week does come in immediately after the huge showdown with preseason Pac-12 favorite USC. The bye week comes right after the USC game and that is a good time for Utah to have a week off.
Utah did lose 15 players who transferred elsewhere. That list included defensive end Xavier Carlton, safety Kamo’i Latu, and cornerback Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, who were part of the defensive rotation as freshmen.
NCAA football odds are at -145 for Utah to top the projected regular-season win total of nine according to the college football odds.
Something for those who bet online, Utah covered against the spread in seven of its last 10 games during the 2021 season. Not that they will be the underdogs too often in 2022, but the Utes have covered in each of the last three games when their opponent is favored.
2022 Utah Schedule
- Sept. 3 at Florida
- Sept. 10 vs Southern Utah
- Sept. 17 vs San Diego State
- Sept. 24 at Arizona State
- Oct. 1 vs Oregon State
- Oct. 8 at UCLA
- Oct. 15 vs Southern California
- Oct. 27 at Washington State
- Nov. 5 vs Arizona
- Nov. 12 vs Stanford
- Nov. 19 at Oregon
- Nov. 26 at Colorado