This national college football pundit is all-in on the Utes. Here’s why he thinks they’ll win the Big 12

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham looks at a replay during the 22 Forever game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 13, 2024. Whittingham and the Utes head into their first Big 12 season with high expectations.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham looks at a replay during the 22 Forever game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 13, 2024. Whittingham and the Utes head into their first Big 12 season with high expectations. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This article was first published in the Ute Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

Joel Klatt is expecting big things from Utah in its first season in the Big 12 Conference.

The Fox Sports commentator ranked the Utes No. 6 in his post-spring football top 25, just behind Alabama, which is under new leadership with former Washington coach Kalen DeBoer after Nick Saban retired, and just behind Ole Miss, which features former Corner Canyon High quarterback Jaxson Dart.

“Death, taxes, Utah football. Folks, Utah is the most overlooked program in America. That’s fine by Kyle Whittingham. He doesn’t care. He does not care if anyone talks about him. He doesn’t care if anyone talks about his program. They are just tough, hard-nosed, good football players,” Klatt said.

Klatt was effusive in his praise for Utah on his podcast “The Joel Klatt Show,” noting that it all starts with coach Kyle Whittingham and quarterback Cam Rising.

Rising led the Utes to back-to-back Pac-12 championships. In his last healthy season, 2022, Rising threw for 3,034 yards and 26 touchdowns and Utah scored 38.6 points per game, surpassed in the last 20 years only by the 45.3 points per game scored by the undefeated 2004 team.

“The last two years that he was the quarterback at the University of Utah. What did they do? They won the Pac-12 and went to the Rose Bowl. That’s what his standard is. Utah is going to be an elite football team. This team is the class of the Big 12,” Klatt said.

Along with tight end Brant Kuithe being back after missing 2023, Rising gained key targets in USC transfer Dorian Singer and Syracuse transfer Damien Alford, along with the return of Money Parks and Landen King.

Utah currently doesn’t have a clear “every down back,” but Micah Bernard, Jaylon Glover, Mike Mitchell and Dijon Stanley can carry the load by committee.

Along the offensive line, which could be the biggest question mark this season, Utah has three open starting spots to fill after Keaton Bills and Sataoa Laumea moved on to the NFL and Kolinu’u Faaiu transferred to Texas A&M. Time will tell if Utah gets a transfer offensive lineman, but coaches feel good about the ability of Johnny Maea, Jaren Kump, Tanoa Togiai, Zereoue Williams and Caleb Lomu to step in and play at a high level.

On defense, Utah returns a host of starters. They do have to replace Cole Bishop and Sione Vaki at safety, Jonah Elliss at defensive end and one outside cornerback spot, but return just about everyone else from last year’s defense, which allowed just 19.31 points per game last year, even with increased time on the field due to Utah’s offensive play in 2023.

Klatt identified Utah’s toughest game as the trip to Stillwater against Oklahoma State to open conference play. The Utes host Arizona right after, which is a great barometer to open the season, and avoid playing Kansas State and Kansas.

The former Colorado quarterback believes the Utes should be conference champions in their first year in the league.

“Utah should win the Big 12 and they’ll be in the playoff and they’ll have a top four seed in the playoff. So wrap your heads around that,” Klatt said.

He also says that Rice-Eccles Stadium is the new hardest place to play in the Big 12.

“Immediately, now that they’re in the Big 12, the toughest place to play in the Big 12, Salt Lake City. All due respect to Stillwater, because Oklahoma State and Mike Gundy, I love you. You guys have been fantastic for a long time. Utah is immediately the toughest place to play in the Big 12,” Klatt said.

In case you missed it

Utah added a transfer quarterback to its roster, bolstering its quarterback room behind Cam Rising. Former Washington and Cal Poly signal-caller Sam Huard — a former five-star recruit — will join Isaac Wilson and Brandon Rose.

From the archives

Extra points

  • ‘An unforgettable feeling’: Mariah Lopez entered stadium in a cap and gown and exited with a huge win (Deseret News)

  • 118 Utah student-athletes graduate, including 3 NFL players who returned to school. Here’s the full list (Deseret News)

  • Deivon Smith has decided where he’ll play next (Deseret News)

Up next

  • May 9 | 11 a.m. | Softball | Oregon (Pac-12 tournament) | @ Stanford, California

  • May 10 | All day | Track and field | Pac-12 championships | @ Boulder, Colorado

  • May 10- 12 | Baseball | Arizona | @ Tucson, Arizona

  • May 11 | 12:30 p.m. | Lacrosse | Duke (NCAA tournament) | Durham, North Carolina

All times MDT.