It’s no secret that Kyle Whittingham has had the Utah football program on an upward trajectory for quite some time.

The biggest evidence of that is reflected by the Utes’ back-to-back Pac-12 championships.

It’s little surprise, then, to see Utah mentioned among the top teams in the country when national college football writers use summertime to rank different aspects of the game.

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Earlier this week, that happened again as two national college football writers included the Utes in articles that highlighted both past efforts and the future outlook for some of the nation’s top programs.

These analyses highlighted two pillars of Utah’s continued success — recruiting and development.

What The Athletic’s re-ranking of the 2019 recruiting class said about Utah

Utah has steadily improved in its recruiting efforts since joining the Pac-12, and that culminated in the Utes signing their highest rated class ever this past cycle.

Utah’s 2023 recruiting class was the first time in school history that the Utes class finished in the top 25 nationally — Utah was ranked No. 21 by 247 Sports, and No. 19 by Rivals.

As The Athletic’s Max Olson points out, though, Whittingham’s program is proving to be elite at developing talent once it arrives in Salt Lake City.

Over the past six summers, Olson has re-ranked the recruiting classes from four years prior to showcase which programs made the most out of their recruits once they had the chance to play four full years in college. 

This time, Olson re-ranked the 2019 recruiting class, and in the re-assessment, Utah came in at No. 12 nationally.

That’s after the Utes’ 2019 recruiting class was initially ranked No. 43 in the country by 247 Sports — giving Utah a 31-spot jump in the re-rankings.

The top signees Olson highlighted from that 2019 class included offensive lineman Sataoa Laumea, defensive tackle Junior Tafuna and wide receiver Devaughn Vele, as well as two important transfers — quarterback Cam Rising (from Texas) and linebacker Nephi Sewell (from Nevada).

Utah’s Cameron Rising gestures a first down while playing against Penn State Nittany Lions in the 109th Rose Bowl.
Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) gestures a first down while playing the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 109th Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

“The back-to-back Pac-12 champs found some real gems in this class, including eight starters for their 2022 squad and a total of 10 signees who have earned all-conference recognition,” Olson wrote. 

“Rising joined the program after one season at Texas and has proven to be one of the Pac-12’s top passers. Vele, a former walk-on, emerged as their No. 1 wide receiver last season. They hit on several offensive line signings with Laumea, Keaton Bills and Bamidele Olaseni, and Tafuna was the Pac-12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year.” 

In the four years since this class was signed, the Utes have gone 34-13, won two Pac-12 championships, played in two Rose Bowls and been ranked in the top 25 at the end of the year three times.  

“This crew has won 10-plus games in three of their four seasons and has a chance to do it again this fall,” Olson wrote.

It’s the fourth time that Utah appeared in Olson’s re-ranking of recruiting classes since he started the practice six years ago, starting with the 2014 class. Utah also appeared at No. 25 in the 2014 re-rankings, No. 9 in the 2016 re-rankings and a high of No. 8 in the 2017 re-rankings.

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Back to the 2019 re-rankings, though: Utah led six Pac-12 teams in the rankings.

In addition to the Utes being one spot ahead of Oregon State, Oregon (No. 15), Washington (No. 16), Stanford (No. 20) and USC (No. 25) also appeared in the re-rankings.

Utah and Oregon State, though, jumped into the top 25 re-rankings after being outside the top 25 in the initial rankings — the Beavers were ranked No. 53 by 247 Sports — while the other four were all ranked in the top 25 when the classes were first signed.

One of Stanford’s top signees in its 2019 class — linebacker Levani Damuni from Ridgeline High — also joined the Utes this season as a graduate transfer.

What ESPN’s college football future power rankings said about Utah

While Olson’s recruiting re-rankings take a look at the past, ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg had his focus on the future with his annual college football future power rankings.

Utah has become a staple in Rittenberg’s future rankings — the Utes were No. 14 last year, following their first Rose Bowl appearance — and this time, Utah shows up at No. 13.

“Utah has evolved from Pac-12 contender to Pac-12 champion, winning consecutive league titles under coach Kyle Whittingham. The next step is all about the national stage, especially with the 12-team CFP coming soon,” Rittenberg wrote.

Rittenberg looked at the personnel teams will have over the next three years to help determine his future rankings — he also creates breakout future rankings for quarterback, offense and defense, and the Utes showed up at No. 19, 14 and 12 in each of those, respectively.

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The ESPN writer’s assessment showed that Utah’s recruiting efforts, as well as the coaching staff’s ability to development talent, has put the program on a solid foundation.

In discussing the Utes’ offense, Rittenberg wrote, “The offense is in a good place, as coordinator Andy Ludwig will stay put following a flirtation with Notre Dame. Utah’s immediate concern is quarterback Cam Rising, who tore an ACL in the Rose Bowl and might be limited early in the season. But another year of Rising at the helm is huge, before Utah turns the offense over to Brandon Rose, Bryson Barnes or Nate Johnson, who competed for the No. 2 job this spring (Rose came out ahead).”

He continued, “The line projects well as starters Keaton Bills, Michael Mokofisi and Sataoa Laumea all have multiple years of eligibility left. Tight end Brant Kuithe, a three-time All-Pac-12 selection, is back from injury for a final year, although Utah must build for 2024 and 2025. The Utes’ running backs should remain solid with non-seniors Micah Bernard and Ja’Quinden Jackson. Wide receiver is the spot that needs a jolt, although Florida State transfer Mycah Pittman should help complement Devaughn Vele. Utah also added ESPN 300 receiver recruit Mikey Matthews.”

The Utes’ strength, however, is on defense, and he sees capable contributors filling where Utah lost talent on that side of the ball.

“Utah’s defensive line is loaded with non-senior contributors, like ends Van Fillinger, Connor O’Toole and Jonah Elliss, and tackle Junior Tafuna. Junior Karene Reid, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, and sophomore Lander Barton will lead the linebackers, while Hunter Clegg (ESPN’s No. 153 overall prospect) headlined the 2023 recruiting class,” Rittenberg wrote. 

“Playmaking cornerback Clark Phillips III will be missed, but the secondary regains leading tackler Cole Bishop, a junior safety, as well as senior cornerback JaTravis Broughton. Ole Miss cornerback transfer Miles Battle provides depth, and Utah added ESPN four-star cornerbacks C.J. Blocker and Smith Snowden in the 2023 class.”

Only two Pac-12 teams show up ahead of Utah in Rittenberg’s future power rankings, and one, USC, will be in the Big Ten next year. 

The Trojans lead all Pac-12 programs at No. 6, while Oregon comes in at No. 11. Beyond the top three, Washington is No. 16, Oregon State is No. 21 and UCLA (who joins USC in the Big Ten in 2024) is No. 23.