The consensus on Utah entering the new season is that coach Kyle Whittingham’s team is on the doorstep looking to move from rising star to full-blown contender.

ESPN recently tiered all 131 FBS programs entering the 2022 season. Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State — the terrifying trio ranked top-three in every preseason publication you can find — were the top tier, labeled as the clear favorites. Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma are in the second tier.

Utah is in the third tier — the “Rising Stars” — alongside NC State, Texas A&M, and Wisconsin. Here’s what David M. Hale wrote on the Utes (and their tier-mates):

All four teams open the season ranked in the top 18, and all have lofty expectations for 2022. But none have sniffed the playoff to this point, and all lost some ugly games last season. (Yes, Utah fans, we blame Charlie Brewer, too.) If the hype for 2022 is real, it’ll mean someone stepping beyond their historical comfort zone of nine- or 10-win seasons and going toe-to-toe with the blue bloods. From Devin Leary and Cameron Rising to Devon Achane and Braelon Allen, these teams have plenty of elite talent. But they’re going to need to show a little more if they want to be legitimate playoff contenders in 2022.

Utah is looking to take that next step. The Utes return Rising at quarterback, Tavion Thomas at running back, and Brant Kuithe at tight end (or wherever he lines up) — a terrifying trio in its own right. Offensively, that group is hoping to lead Utah to a repeat Pac-12 championship.

To do so, they’ll need to run through a schedule that features USC (Tier 4, “They’re [maybe] back!”), Oregon (Tier 7, “Wilder things have happened”), Florida (Tier 8, “Big Names, Bad Records”), and UCLA (Tier 9, “Plucky Upstarts”).

The Utes and Gators open up at 4 p.m. PT on Saturday, Sept. 3, in Gainesville, Florida. If folks are asking Utah to show a little more in 2022, a win over the Gators in The Swamp would certainly qualify.