247Sports picks Utah as team best positioned to earn first College Football Playoff spot in 2022
USC is the trendy topic du jour in college football, and Oregon is probably a close second given all the excitement around new head coach Dan Lanning, but the Utah Utes are still the reigning Pac-12 champions and the football-specific analysis—not the hype train fueling or the way-too-early prognosticating—shows the Utes as the overwhelming team to beat still in the league.
As such, 247Sports’ Clint Buckley tabbed Utah as the team best positioned in all of college football to earn its first College Football Playoff appearance.
Here’s what Buckley wrote on the Utes:
“Until the Pac-12 becomes a bigger player nationally, the conference will always be viewed as the Power 5 league with the easiest path to the playoff. And there is no Pac-12 program with more skins on the wall, so to speak, entering 2022 than the Utah Utes. Not only did Utah win the conference title a year ago, it came awfully close to knocking off perennial CFP contender Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Cameron Rising, who assumed the starting quarterback position midseason after Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer fell out of favor, sparked a late-season turnaround that featured a 9-1 run leading into the bowl game. Rising finished 2021 by accounting for almost 3,000 yards of offense and 26 touchdowns. Like the rest of the Pac-12, Utah’s margin for error will be much slimmer than most every team in another major conference. The Utes’ road will not be easy as they open the season at Florida, travel to UCLA, host what looks to be a much-improved USC team and face Oregon on the road in mid-November. But if any Pac-12 team can end the league’s six-year CFP drought in 2022, it’s Utah.”
The Pac-12 hasn’t placed a team into the CFP field since 2016, but with half of last year’s bids going to first-timers in Michigan and Cincinnati, there seems a renewed sense of optimism around the sport that the CFP selection committee is a little more open-minded than it used to be.
Yes, the National Championship game was still SEC vs. SEC, but all conferences can ask for is a shot in the four-team field.
For the Pac-12, Utah feels like the best immediate shot until there’s more clarity on what the USC roster looks like and how it’ll mesh with Lincoln Riley’s system.
The Utes were slotted at the top of the conference and 14th nationally in Bill Connelly’s early 2022 SP+ projections. They return 66% of last year’s production, per Connelly, and though the losses of Devin Lloyd, Nephi Sewell, Britain Covey, and Nick Ford, among others, will be key pieces that need replacing, the Utes are still bringing back stars in quarterback Cameron Rising, running back Tavion Thomas, and corner Clark Phillips III.
The rest of the Top 10, according to 247Sports:
2. Texas A&M
6. Oklahoma State
7. Wake Forest
9. NC State