Facebook Twitter

Pac-12 previews: Can Utes repeat as conference champs?

Most of Utah’s offense returns, highlighted by quarterback Cam Rising, running back Tavion Thomas and tight ends Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid

SHARE Pac-12 previews: Can Utes repeat as conference champs?
Utah running back Tavion Thomas scores during the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Utah running back Tavion Thomas scores during the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor’s note: Last in a series of articles examining each of the Pac-12 football teams heading into the 2022 season.

Fresh off its first Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance, Utah is looking to repeat in 2022 and finds itself ranked in the top 10 in several preseason polls. Some project the Utes as a contender for the College Football Playoff.

“We’re the champions coming back. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “There’s a lot of good teams in the (Pac-12) South. We’ve just got to go about our business like we usually do. We don’t have that under-the-radar feel to us this year.”

The Utes say they are ready for everybody’s best this fall.

“It’s understanding that we are the team with a target on our back. Everybody is going to be coming for us. We’re no longer that underdog team where they just overlook us,” said Utes wide receiver Devaughn Vele. “Now we’re one of those powerhouses and when they think of the Pac-12, they think of Utah, not just USC or Oregon or Washington.

“It’s just understanding that role and being able to step into that spotlight and not shying away from it. It’s keeping that confidence and understanding what we need to do and still maintaining the same energy that we had last year.” 

Most of Utah’s offense returns, highlighted by quarterback Cam Rising, running back Tavion Thomas and tight ends Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid

The Utes must replace wide receiver/kick return extraordinaire Britain Covey, as well as all-conference offensive linemen Nick Ford and Bamidele Olaseni. 

On defense, Utah needs to replace a first-round draft pick, linebacker Devin Lloyd, and defensive lineman Mika Tafua

Still, the Utes are expected, as usual, to field another strong and stingy defense, led by defensive lineman Junior Tafuna, Florida transfer linebacker Mohamoud Diabate, cornerback Clark Phillips III and safety Cole Bishop

The Utes allowed only 19.1 points per game last season in Pac-12 games. 

Some are projecting that Utah could contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. 

“We’re the champs and we’ve got to act like the champs. (Defensive coordinator Morgan) Scalley always mentions after practice that we’re the ones with the target on our backs. It’s something to protect,” said defensive tackle Devin Kaufusi. “We’re on the throne and we’ve got to protect it. Understanding the great feeling of being the champs, we’ve got to keep it going.

“We know we’re capable. It’s really encouraging and it gives us that confidence and that encouragement to work harder and take it another step further.”

2021 record: 10-4 (8-1 Pac-12).

Utah ties

RB Faysal Aden (West HS)

QB Bryson Barnes (Milford HS)

LB Lander Barton (Brighton HS)

WR Noah Bennee (Olympus HS)

OL Keaton Bills (Corner Canyon HS)

SN Logan Castor (Brighton HS)

OL Hunter Deuel (American Fork HS)

WR Collin Edwards (Brighton HS)

TE Hayden Erickson (Lehi HS)

DE Van Fillinger (Corner Canyon HS)

DT Tevita Fotu (Herriman HS)

LB Hayden Furey (Westlake HS)

OL Alex Harrison (Viewmont HS)

CB Nick Howe (Woods Cross HS)

TE Deven Johnson (Salem Hills HS)

DT Devin Kaufusi (Timpview HS)

OL Tyler Knaak (Brighton HS)

OL Jaren Kump (Brighton HS)

LB Lolani Langi (Bingham HS)

OL Hunter Lotulelei (Highland HS)

OL Johnny Maea (East HS)

DT Tanu Maiava-Ahhing (Springville HS)

OL Paul Maile (East HS)

OL Michael Mokofisi (Woods Cross HS)

DT Simote Pepa (Bingham HS)

DT Fua Pututau (Cottonwood HS)

TE Taniela Pututau (Cottonwood HS)

DT Tennessee Pututau (East HS)

LB Karene Reid (Timpview HS)

DT Junior Tafuna (Bingham HS)

LB Sione Tahu (Provo HS)

TE Isaac Vaha (Pleasant Grove HS)

RB Charlie Vincent (East HS)

2022 schedule

Sept. 3 @ Florida

Sept. 10 Southern Utah

Sept. 17 San Diego State

Sept. 24 @ Arizona State

Oct. 1 Oregon State

Oct. 8 @ UCLA

Oct. 15 USC

Oct. 27 @ Washington State

Nov. 5 Arizona

Nov. 12 Stanford

Nov. 19 @ Oregon

Nov. 26 @ Colorado

merlin_2902099.jpg

Fans cheer as the Utes take the field against the Ohio State Buckeyes prior to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News