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