Utah checks in at No. 22 in 247sports preseason rankings

Ryan Kostecka

The college football season is just under three months away from beginning — and all indications are that there will be a season — but Utah is already earning some preseason recognition.

247sports just released its preseason top-25, and shockingly enough Utah finds itself at No. 22. It's a surprise ranking considering the Utes lost so many players from last year's squad, including 9 defensive starters, six of whom were drafted, and record-setting offensive players in quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss.

However, Utah does have pieces in place that can make the team successful. 

The Utes return defensive end Mike Tafua, who after a breakout sophomore season is poised to be their next great defensive lineman. He's be joined by Devin Lloyd and Stanford transfer Sione Lund as the anchors in Utah's linebacking corps. 

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Aug 29, 2019; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) fumbles the snap on a two-point conversion attempt against Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (20) in the fourth quarter at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The offense is expected to get a big boost from the return of Britain Covey, while Brant Kuithe is poised to become one of the best tight ends in the nation. If Cam Rising or grad transfer Jake Bentley can stabilize the quarterback position, the Utes could be in decent shape on offense.

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Sep 15, 2018; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) runs after a catch during the second half against the Washington Huskies at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

According to 247sports, Utah was one of the more controversial teams in the preseason poll with six voters leaving them out of the top-25 and the other two placing them in the top-20. 

Easily Utah's best attributes entering the season is the fact that head coach Kyle Whittingham always puts out a competitive team on the field, with five of his last six teams winning at least nine games. 

They also have a very favorable schedule by missing Oregon completely, and getting BYU, USC and Washington all at home — but road games to Cal and Arizona State could cause issues. 

Utah does return most of its starting offensive line that should aide whoever starts under center — while its defense will be filled with players who have seen significant action over the past couple of seasons, albeit not as starters.

247sports had this to say about Utah...

"Utah was a controversial team in 247Sports’ preseason poll. Six people left Utah off their ballot while two included them in the top 20. There is plenty to like about this team. First, the schedule is favorable. USC and Arizona State are the only teams on their slate that came close to cracking this Top 25. Utah also draws USC and Washington at home. Kyle Whittingham has produced six straight teams that have won at least seven games – five of those campaigns resulted in win totals of nine or more. Whittingham is a proven talent producer and developer. Thing is … almost all of last season’s playoff-worthy defense is gone with nine starters departing. The offense fares better with seven starters back, but that doesn’t include Tyler Huntley, one of the nation’s most efficient passers. All eyes are on South Carolina transfer quarterback Jake Bentley this fall. The Utes need him to return to his freshman year form if they hope to remain atop the Pac-12 South."

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The Utes are one of four teams ranked in the top-25, as reigning Pac-12 champion Oregon is the top team, checking in at No. 11. 

Although the Ducks did lose four-year starters in quarterback Justin Herbert and linebacker Troy Dye, plus four starting offensive lineman, they bring back arguably the best player in the country in left tackle Penei Sewell and the nation's top secondary, to go along with the Pac-12's top recruiting class.

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Nov 23, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Oregon Ducks tackle Penei Sewell (58) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Joining the Ducks are Pac-12 south division co-favorites in USC at No. 16 and No. 21 Arizona State. 

Both teams are bolstered by emerging young quarterbacks in Kedon Slovis of USC and Jayden Daniels of Arizona State. Where they differ is that the Trojans should be a very good defensive unit with nine returning starters, while the Sun Devils should be armed with an explosive offense. 

Washington is another school that while not ranked in the top-25, was receiving votes and could play darkhorse with an experienced defense.

Overall, Ohio State begins the season as the top-dog, and their season-opening showdown with Oregon at Autzen stadium is a chance for an early statement by either team and their respective conference. 

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Dec 28, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) throws a pass against Clemson in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darryl Webb}/Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK 

Clemson, who took down the Buckeyes last year in the CFP semifinal, check in at No. 2 with the return of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and a talented defensive line. 

Alabama, Georgia and Penn State check in at spots 3 through 5. 

The SEC led the way in the rankings with seven teams — with the Big Ten having five, and the Big-12 and ACC having three teams each. UCF and Cincinnati are the top two teams from the Group of 5.

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