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Where do Utah and BYU land in ESPN’s preseason college football power rankings?

The Utes and Cougars will start the season in the Top 25 of another major ranking

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BYU and Utah compete during the first half of an NCAA college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

BYU and Utah compete during an NCAA college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

It’s a busy time for rankings ahead of the 2022 college football season — on Monday, the preseason Associated Press poll was released, one week after the preseason USA Today coaches poll came out.

On Tuesday, another major ranking was unveiled: ESPN’s preseason power rankings.

For Utah and BYU, it’s another chance to see how their programs are viewed on a national scale.

The Utes will start the year at No. 6 in ESPN’s power rankings, while the Cougars snuck in at No. 25.

That’s close to where the major polls had both teams: Utah is No. 7 in the preseason AP poll and No. 8 in the coaches — both program highs to start a year — while BYU is No. 25 in the AP and outside the coaches top 25, though fourth among other teams receiving votes.

Why is Utah at No. 6 in ESPN’s preseason college football power rankings?

The Utes are coming off a 10-4 season where they won the Pac-12 and made the program’s first-ever appearance in the Rose Bowl.

ESPN called Utah’s home game against USC on Oct. 15 its most important of the season, and dubbed quarterback Cam Rising the team’s X factor.

“The Utes went 9-1 in his first 10 starts to win the Pac-12 and qualify for the Rose Bowl — a pair of program firsts. As the entrenched starter, his value is even more important,” ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura wrote about Rising.

The Utes’ biggest concern, according to ESPN, will be in the team’s cornerback depth, which got exposed in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State after several Utah cornerbacks were lost to injuries heading into the bowl game.

“If they are to take the next step — the College Football Playoff should be the goal — the secondary can’t be such a liability,” Bonagura said.

Why is BYU at No. 25 in ESPN’s preseason college football power rankings?

The Cougars lead the nation in returning production at 85%, according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, one year after going 10-3 and finishing a second straight year ranked.

BYU will face four teams ranked in the preseason AP poll, and ESPN said the most important game will be the home opener Sept. 10 against defending Big 12 champion Baylor.

As for X factor, it’s wide receiver Puka Nacua. “After the departure of Tyler Allgeier (fifth-round pick of Atlanta), Nacua’s presence is ever more important as QB Jaren Hall tries to build off his strong 2021 season,” Bonagura wrote.

The biggest question mark surrounding 2022 for BYU will be if the Cougars can start strong. Bongura pointed to an opening slate of games that includes USF in the opener, then Baylor followed by Oregon on Sept. 17 as a critical stretch of the season.

“A 1-2 start is clearly on the table. If that happens, the rest of the reason won’t have serious stakes because they are an independent team,” Bonagura wrote. 

“It’s precisely the scenario to show why joining the Big 12 will be such a great move for the program. If the Cougars can get through those two games, though, 5-0 looks doable heading into the game against Notre Dame in Las Vegas.”