As the hype train continues to roll for the Utah Utes football team ahead of the 2022 season, it was identified in a story on Saturday by ESPN’s Heather Dinich as one of four teams in the country that has the best chance of cracking the College Football Playoff for the first time.
Dinich ranked the Utes as the second-most likely of the four to reach the CFP, behind Texas A&M and ahead of Pac-12 (for now) foe USC and Oklahoma State.
For each of the four teams, Dinich listed their ESPN Football Power Index ranking, then delved into why they have a realistic chance at making the CFP before cautioning “it will only happen If...”
Lastly, Dinich listed what the FPI and Allstate Playoff Predictor say about each team’s chances.
Utah is ranked No. 13 in the FPI. As for why it has a realistic chance of making the CFP, Dinich noted how the Utes return 14 starters from last year’s Rose Bowl team, including quarterback Cam Rising, five of his top six receivers and running back Tavion Thomas.
“With USC and Oregon both under new head coaches, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham has the edge in experience, and he is proven with three Pac-12 South titles in the past four seasons,” Dinich wrote.
Dinich further wrote that a CFP berth will only happen if “Utah can win on the road,” although she wrote that the Utes can lose their season opener at Florida and still make the CFP if they win out from there.
“They need to beat the Gators to give themselves a cushion in league play, especially if Lincoln Riley can raise USC quickly,” Dinich wrote, noting that Utah has six road games, “including particularly difficult trips” to UCLA, Washington State and Oregon.
“Utah’s inability to win road games last year at BYU, San Diego State and Oregon State cost the Utes a historic season,” she wrote.
Dinich observed that according to the FPI, “Utah has at least a 50% chance” to win every game except the ones at Florida and at Oregon and that the team has a 6.3% chance of reaching the CFP according to the Playoff Predictor, which is the highest of the four teams listed in the story.
Dinich closed the Utes section with a quote from Whittingham in which he said, “I think we’re still fighting for [respect] in a way. We’re a program that’s still working on our brand and trying to become more of a national presence, but you’ve got to earn that — nobody’s going to give it to you.
“The way you do that is every time you have a chance to prove that — national television, bowl games, that type of situation — you’ve got to play your way into that respect. We’ve made inroads. Are we where we want to be? Not yet.”