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Where Utah — and the rest of the Pac-12 — are slotted in college football preseason rankings

Phil Steele has given the Utes their highest preseason ranking at No. 15.

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In this Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, file photo, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham takes the field with his his team before a game against Oregon State in Salt Lake City.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Numerous publications and websites have released their preseason college football rankings ahead of the 2021 campaign. 

Where does Utah sit in those rankings? And what do the national pundits think about the Pac-12?

Phil Steele has given the Utes their highest preseason ranking at No. 15. 

“This may be Kyle Whittingham’s best team yet as he has a talented team with 19 returning starters and then enriched it with the transfer portal,” Steele wrote. “The Utes may be a dog in only one game this year and make my Surprise Team list again.”

Steele has Washington at No. 9, USC at No. 13, Oregon at No. 19 and Arizona State at No. 21. 

Utah checks in at No. 22 in Pro Football Network’s rankings. Here’s what Pro Football Network had to say about the Utes:

“If you were a college football player in the transfer portal this spring, you likely made your way to Utah. An incredible seven Division I players transferred to the Utes, all from Power Five conferences. They have landed offensive weapons such as Theo Howard, T.J. Pledger, and Chris Curry. Furthermore, former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer is the addition that could truly ignite this Utes program. If Brewer can return to the form that made Baylor a Big 12 contender in 2019, then Utah could be a surprise contender in the Pac-12.

“Defensively, they added Josh Calvert to a linebacker unit that already hosts one of the best in the nation in Devin Lloyd. They have playmakers in all three levels of the defense, with cornerback Clark Phillips III an exciting second-year player to keep an eye on.”

Athlon has Utah just outside the top 25 at No. 26. Four Pac-12 programs are ranked by Athlon: Oregon (9), Arizona State (15), USC (18) and Washington (22).

“The Utes are projected third in Athlon’s predictions for the Pac-12 South but little separates Arizona State and USC with the Utes,” according to Athlon. “If quarterback Charlie Brewer provides steady play, don’t be surprised if Utah ends up hoisting the conference title at the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Football Power Index was updated this week. When it was released in April, the FPI contained “data and modeling errors.” Those have been fixed and adjusted. 

As part of those changes, Utah jumped from No. 57 to No. 30 in the FPI. 

Other Pac-12 teams’ rankings in the FPI include Oregon (No. 12), USC (No. 21), Washington (No. 25) and Arizona State (No. 29).

ESPN’s FPI top 10 does not include a Pac-12 program, so that means that according to the model, the chances of a Pac-12 team reaching the College Football Playoff are slim. 

“It’s not impossible — Oregon has an 8% chance — but it’s a long shot. The Pac-12’s problems are twofold. First, the obvious: It lacks an elite team,” ESPN wrote. “The Ducks come in at No. 12 in FPI’s rankings, which means they’re almost certainly going to have to beat expectations in order to reach the CFP.

“And then second: its two best playoff hopefuls — Oregon and USC — both have a rough out-of-conference matchup in the form of games at Ohio State and at Notre Dame, respectively. The result is that the Ducks have just a 9% chance to end up with 0 or 1 losses (including a potential conference championship game) and USC has just a 3% shot. Ultimately, there’s a 91% chance that the conference’s playoff-less streak simply continues this season.”

The Sporting News did not include Utah in its top 25. It ranks USC at No. 12 and Oregon at No. 16. The Sporting News projected the Utes to play in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve against Boston College.