Taking a shot on this team to steamroll the PAC-12

As we get closer to the college football season, I continue to look at futures that bettors should hit early. Let’s take a trip to Salt Lake City as the Utah Utes come into the 2022 season ready to defend their Pac-12 title.

While Utah is a great team in its own right, its next leap in production will depend on quarterback Cam Rising. He didn’t start until the third game last season, but Rising led the Utes to the Pac-12 Championship by throwing for 2,493 yards, 20 touchdowns, with five interceptions, and a 63.8 completion percentage.

He’ll have plenty of familiar faces around him because Utah’s offense will return 73 percent of its offense, per TARP.

Remember, this unit finished top-20 in success rate, finishing drives, and havoc allowed. The Utes will need to bring all the firepower they can for what will be high-scoring affairs with other powerhouse Pac-12 offenses.

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Utah will return three of its top four targets, with tight end duo Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe looking to snag the majority of receptions after combining for 86 catches, 1,121 yards, and 14 touchdowns last season.

Devaughn Vele looks to take the reins as the top wideout after the departure of Britain Covey, while running back Tavion Thomas looks to build on his success from last season.

This is a deadly offense.

What separated Utah from the rest of the Pac-12 last season was a defense that could slow down opposing West Coast offenses. While we’ve become accustomed to lit-up scoreboards after dark, Utah brings a more complete package with its 4-2-5 havoc-minded scheme.

Utah quarterback Cam Rising
Utah quarterback, Cam Rising

The Utes suffered some key losses at the linebacker position with the departure of Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell, but looked to reload in the transfer portal. They added Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate to fill the void next to quality players such as Gabe Reid and Karene Reid, who started in six games for the Utes last season.

Utah has room for improvement in stopping explosiveness, a common characteristic in Pac-12 play. After ranking 116th, Utah will need to find some success instead of just relying on havoc to stop opposing offenses.

You can’t think about the Pac-12 this year without mentioning the resurgence of the Lincoln Riley-led USC Trojans. Riley and company had themselves quite the offseason in the transfer portal, putting together a high-powered offense ready to instantly contend for a conference title.

While the offense will be revamped and potentially deadly, USC as a whole still has holes all over the defense and will likely need some time to adjust. With the public taking USC every which way to Sunday, that leaves plenty of value on the board to take Utah in various ways.

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Utah put the Pac-12 on notice last season when Rising took the reins. Now, he will look to replicate that success this season with team continuity.

While USC has been the shiny new toy, it’s Utah that’s ol’ reliable and a force we should expect to see in the Pac-12 Championship — especially in the conference’s new format with the top two teams receiving a berth, as in the Big 12.

Our projections align with my prediction, as Action Network has Utah projected at 10.6 wins while SP+ projects the Utes at 9.5.

They will be favored or near a coin-flip in every game on the slate. They also benefit from Florida being in the middle of a rebuild in Week 1. Compared to other teams, I will by far have most of my futures money on Utah.

The Utes were one of the biggest wins of my season last year with a Pac-12 ticket, and I’ll look to bank on them again with a potential College Football Playoff season coming up in 2022.

Picks: Utah to Win Pac-12 (+200) — Caesars; Utah Over 8.5 wins (-125) — BetMGM; Cam Rising to win Heisman Trophy (80/1) — FanDuel