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Where Utah ranks in the first wave of way-too-early Top 25 rankings for 2023

Are the Utes expected to contend for a third straight Pac-12 championship in a much-improved league?

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Utah Utes TE Thomas Yassmin (87) celebrates a touchdown with teammates as Utah and Penn State play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023.

Utah Utes TE Thomas Yassmin (87) celebrates a touchdown with teammates as Utah and Penn State play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah knows where it finished the 2022 season: ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press rankings of the year.

That’s the fourth time in program history that the Utes have finished a season ranked in the Top 10.

Less than 24 hours after Monday night’s national championship where Georgia rolled past TCU, multiple national publications have already released their look-ahead, way-too-early Top 25 rankings for the 2023 season.

It’s clear that Utah is expected to be a Top 25 regular yet again. 

It’s no surprise, with several offensive playmakers led by star quarterback Cam Rising and dynamic tight end Brent Kuithe announcing they will return next season, while the defense returns young talents like safeties Cole Bishop and linebacker Karene Reid, and Stanford transfer Levani Damuni joins at linebacker.

After a season where six Pac-12 schools finished in the AP Top 25, though, these national experts believe Utah will face a stiff challenge trying to win a third straight Pac-12 championship.

Here’s what nine different publications have Utah ranked in their way-too-early Top 25 right now, in comparison to their Pac-12 counterparts.

ESPN

  • Where Utah is ranked: No. 13.
  • Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: USC, No. 7; Oregon, No. 9; Washington, No. 11; Oregon State, No. 17.
What Mark Schlabach said about Utah: The Utes have reached unprecedented heights by winning back-to-back Pac-12 championships and making consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, both of those games ended in losses after starting quarterback Cam Rising was hurt. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Rising’s leg injury wasn’t good and his recovery would take a while. It’s unclear how much that affected his decision to return to Utah for one more season. Rising announced on Monday that he’s coming back, and if he’s healthy, the Utes could be very good again in 2023.

The Athletic

  • Where Utah is ranked: No. 12.
  • Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: USC, No. 7; Washington, No. 9; Oregon, No. 13; Oregon State, No. 16.
What Stewart Mandel said about Utah: The two-time Pac-12 champions got great news Monday, as QB Cam Rising, TE Brant Kuithe and WR Devaughn Vele are all returning. Converted QB Ja’Quinden Jackson emerged as a dangerous RB. Safety Cole Bishop and ex-Stanford LB Levani Damuni should lead a defense that saw younger players like LBs Lander Barton and Karene Reid and S Sione Vaki emerge. Utah added Ole Miss transfer Miles Battle.

Bleacher Report

  • Where Utah is ranked: No. 16.
  • Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: USC, No. 8; Washington, No. 9; Oregon, No. 10; Oregon State, No. 18; UCLA, No. 19.
What Brad Crawford said about Utah: Kyle Whittingham’s not going to lead the Utes to a third consecutive Pac-12 title, is he? The odds are high he could if quarterback Cam Rising returns given what Utah brings back on defense. Even with Clark Phillips off to the NFL as a projected first-rounder, the Utes have several all-conference caliber starters who are back on that side of the football. We expected Ja’Quinden Jackson to assume a starring role on offense with more touches.

Yahoo Sports

  • Where Utah is ranked: No. 14.
  • Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: USC, No. 6; Oregon, No. 8; Washington, No. 11; Oregon State, No. 18; UCLA, No. 19.
What Sam Cooper said about Utah: Utah has won back-to-back Pac-12 titles and there’s a lot to like about the Utes in 2023. Kyle Whittingham’s program is consistently good on defense and along the offensive line. Cam Rising will be back at quarterback for his third year as the team’s starter and several other veterans on offense, including tight end Brant Kuithe and receiver Devaughn Vele, are also set to return. Additionally, Ja’Quinden Jackson could emerge as one of the top running backs in the Pac-12. There are a lot of intriguing teams in the Pac-12, but the Utes should still be regarded as one of the favorites.

CBS Sports

  • Where Utah is ranked: No. 18.
  • Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: Washington, No. 5; Oregon, No. 11; USC, No. 13; Oregon State, No. 15; UCLA, No. 23.
What Dennis Dodd said about Utah: The next step is clear for Kyle Whittingham and the Utes: Get to the CFP. They are two-time defending Pac-12 champions coming off consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in 13 years. They’ve lost consecutive Rose Bowls to Big Ten opponents. Another run hinges on the play of QB Cam Rising, who announced his return Monday, along with an already stout defense.

Fox Sports

  • Where Utah is ranked: No. 9.
  • Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: USC, No. 4; Washington, No. 11; Oregon, No. 15; UCLA, No. 17; Oregon State, No. 20; Colorado, No. 21.
What RJ Young said about Utah: With Cam Bad Moon Rising announcing his return to the Utes, expect Utah to mount a run at a third-straight Pac-12 title in a league that hasn’t looked this competitive since the early aughts.

Sports Illustrated

Where Utah is ranked: No. 15.

Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: Washington, No. 5; USC, No. 8; Oregon, No. 13; Oregon State, No. 20; UCLA, No. 25.

What Pat Forde said about Utah: Operating on the theory that Utah is virtually recession-proof, a fourth double-digit win season since 2019 seems entirely possible — despite significant personnel losses to the draft and portal. Cornerback Clark Phillips III and tight end Dalton Kincaid headline Utah’s departing draft prospects, but quarterback Cameron Rising is returning for his senior season. The Utes should be very strong on both lines and have good experience at the skill positions offensively if some top talents return. You can always count on a Kyle Whittingham team to be solid defensively and proficient at producing turnovers. The schedule is an adventure, with Florida coming to Salt Lake City and the Utes traveling to Baylor.

Sporting News

Where Utah is ranked: No. 15.

Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: USC, No. 7; Washington, No. 10; Oregon, No. 11; Oregon State, No. 16.

What Bill Bender said about Utah: Are we under-valuing Utah again? Cam Rising is back, and that is huge for the two-time defending Pac-12 champions. Cole Bishop returns as the leading tackler from the defense. Longtime coach Kyle Whittingham is no stranger to the under-the-radar treatment, and the return game against Florida in the opener will be an early chance to prove it on the national stage again. Utah goes to Baylor in Week 2. That’s beefing up the non-conference schedule.

Athlon Sports

  • Where Utah is ranked: No. 16.
  • Where other Pac-12 teams are ranked: USC, No. 4; Washington, No. 10; Oregon, No. 11; Oregon State, No. 17.
What Steven Lassan said about Utah: The path to a third consecutive Pac-12 title will hinge significantly on what happens at quarterback. Cameron Rising could move to the NFL, but a knee injury in the Rose Bowl added uncertainty to the Utes’ quarterback situation for ’23. While mystery surrounds the position for now, the offensive line should be among the best in the Pac-12. Additionally, Devaughn Vele, Money Parks and tight end Thomas Yassmin are back on the outside. Converted quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson is a rising star at running back. As usual, Utah should be solid again on defense, but the departure of Clark Phillips III to the NFL leaves big shoes to fill at cornerback. Safety Cole Bishop, linebacker Lander Barton and tackle Junior Tafuna will be among the Pac-12’s top defenders next fall.