Utah Football: seven predictions for the 2022 Utes
Spring ball is over. The dog days of summer are upon us. That means it’s talkin’ season. Time to make predictions that will be laughably wrong and go out on completely unnecessary limbs all in the name of giving Freezing Cold Takes more Twitter fodder.
Here are seven predictions about the 2022 Utah Utes. Please save them for future enjoyment.
Teams already covered: Oregon
Utah handles Florida in Week 1
It’s funny but it’s not funny when non-conference games work out like this. When teams schedule marquee out-of-league games, they do so years in advance without a firm grasp of the kind of team they’re going to bring to the table. Utah scheduled a home-and-home with Florida just three years ago, so it’s not like this game was a decade in the making, but did the Utes think they’d have a team gearing up to make a run at the College Football Playoff when they put a trip to Gainesville on the schedule for Week 1? When you have USC hot on the heels and Oregon looking for revenge later in the season, you’d much rather open with Southern Utah than the Florida Gators from the mighty SEC…
Just preparing you for the next three-ish months of “Utah season outlooks” you’ll read from out of the market.
Utah will handle Florida. ESPN’s early FPI numbers give the Utes a 0.3-point advantage in the matchup. In reality, this could be a double-digit win. Florida was a bad team a year ago and will be working a new coaching staff into the fold. Utah was an excellent team a year ago and has continuity in the most important places—a strong culture, entrenched coordinators, and a talented quarterback. A well-coached team is ready for any fight, any place. Utah is a very well-coached team with the talent to beat anyone.
Cameron Rising is a legitimate Heisman contender
This will require a bit of campaigning from the Utah program. Houston sent out Ed Oliver bobbleheads to media members years ago prior to the season looking to garner some eyeballs to their star defender. Maybe there are folks outside the Pac-12 footprint who still don’t fully appreciate the player Rising is.
With a full offseason to work as the unquestioned No. 1 and what seems like the drive of a guy who thinks he’s having to climb up from a No. 3 spot, Rising should show improvement in his individual game during the 2022 campaign. I’m expecting a better deep ball and a more lethal offense with a promising collection of supporting pieces. Last season, Rising was the sixth-best quarterback in the country, according to QBR, ESPN’s catch-all measuring stick stat for quarterbacks. If Utah is positioned in the College Football Playoff race when those rankings start to drop later next fall, Rising could have a potential Heisman Moment on the calendar on Nov. 19. Nonetheless, he’ll finish top-seven in the voting.
Mohamoud Diabate and Van Fillinger combine for 20-plus TFLs
That’s not a crazy number for two players to hit. Devin Lloyd had 22 on his own just last season. Mika Tafua had 13. It feels like those two players will be tough to immediately replace. Lloyd’s combination of ability and leadership was special, and he was a first-round pick for a reason. Diabate, the signature offseason transfer from Florida, is a similar kind of player, though his usage was a bit different last year. In more than 550 snaps last year for the Gators, Diabate was a pass-rusher just 10% of the time. Lloyd was a pass-rusher roughly one out of every five snaps played. Lloyd was also strong in coverage, while Diabate struggled a bit. Utah has a number of options to roll out at linebacker, so bet on defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley being able to weaponize Diabate’s strength and athleticism.
Fillinger is a breakout candidate enjoying his second full offseason in the program. Last year, he produced 9.5 tackles for loss in 14 appearances. With the other end spot up for grabs, Utah will look to Fillinger to be a stalwart kind of player on the line. He and Diabate should be able to provide the Utes with a similar brand of havoc-creation they’ve enjoyed recently.
The pass-catchers go back-to-back years with three 500-yard receivers
Last season, Brant Kuithe (611), Britain Covey (514), and Dalton Kincaid (510) each hauled in at least 500 yards receiving. That was the first time a trio of Utah pass-catchers had all cleared 500 yards in the same season since 2008. That hasn’t been accomplished in back-to-back seasons since the 1995 and 1996 campaigns.
Kuithe and Kincaid should both clear 500 yards. Wideout Devaughn Vele, after flashing serious promise last season (17 yards a reception), had what was by most accounts an outstanding spring period in pursuit of the Utes’ top spot out wide. The 6-foot-5 former walk-on feels like a rising player within the team. If he can ascend to a No. 1 role, there should be more than enough to go around.
Clark Phillips III is a Jim Thorpe finalist
In 19 appearances—all starts—the third-year sophomore has 15 pass breakups and three interceptions. Last season, he was a player opposing offenses weren’t afraid to throw at, seeing a target every six coverage snaps, according to PFF. Among Pac-12 corners to see at least 100 snaps, that average was on the low end. As the season wore on, though, Phillips got better and better. Expect teams to be a little more hesitant to seek out Phillips in coverage next year.
He was named the third-best returning corner in the country by PFF. Phillips has the athletic ability and IQ to be one of the sport’s top defensive backs. As such, he’ll be one of the finalists for the award given annually to college football’s best defensive back. A Utah man has never won the award.
Utah beats USC on Oct. 15 in the best game of the Pac-12 season
Cam Rising against Caleb Williams. Defending league champions against trendy title pick. The established brilliance of Kyle Whittingham against the new-age Lincoln Riley. The meeting between the Utes and Trojans in Salt Lake City in mid-October could be one of the best games we see during the regular-season. Utah will be looking to make a statement. So will USC. The march to a College Football Playoff berth takes a big step here. Can’t wait for this game.
Utah is scorned by the selection committee
Let’s say Utah loses to Florida in Week 1. I don’t think that’ll happen, but just for the sake of the hypothetical assume it does. After that loss, the Utes rebound to rip through the Pac-12, win another league title, and are sitting at 12-1 with all eyes squarely on the CFP selection committee. The pessimist looks at that potential scenario and says, “This is where perception will hurt.” The question will be whether Utah earned 12 wins because it was a legit 12-win Power Five team or because it played Pac-12 competition. The Pac-12 is viewed as a weak league. The overwhelming narrative that Riley will turn USC into a CFP threat in his first year in Los Angeles only further supports that. Utah will have to play a perfect season to give itself a shot at earning one of the four playoff spots. An 11-2 season probably has the Utes finishing something like ninth in the final CFP rankings. I think this is a 12-1 team. Depending on who that loss is to, Utah feels like the exact kind of team the selection committee would thumb its nose at in favor of a Notre Dame/Ohio State/second-place SEC type. That would be a shame. This is one I hope is wrong.