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The Top 10 Storylines For The Utes In 2022

Jan 13, 2023, 10:37 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – Now that we’ve all had a minute to decompress from a whirlwind finish to the 2022 year for Utah Athletics, we thought it would be fun to go back through some of the top headlines for the Utes.

There is no doubt 2022 was a historically great year for Utah Athletics, mostly headlined by football, but some of the smaller sports certainly made sure we were aware of them too. This all feels like a lead up to what will likely be another very productive year for the Utes in the Pac-12 for 2023, but that’s in the future, right now our focus is on the past.

There was an impressive number of firsts, equally as many repeats, some uncertainty, and a lot of unwavering belief ending in a ton of hope for the future of the University of Utah and its athletic programs.

 

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No. 1: We Goin’ To The Rose Bowl

Looking through the history of Utah football it becomes clear one of their many identities clearly can be described as the “little team that could”.

The Utes have had no quit in them since Ron McBride took the program over in 1990 and it has carried on through the Urban Meyer and now Kyle Whittingham eras in a big way. Utah football just doesn’t seem to believe there is a goal out there too big for them to conquer including getting to the “Grandaddy of them All”.

 

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Utah reaching their first Rose Bowl in program history to start 2022 for Utah Athletics is unquestionably the biggest story for the Utes in the year that was. It literally set the tone for everything else that happened the rest of the year.

Between the blood, sweat, and tears those who came before put with the hope of “someday”, to building a Mountain West program into a Power 5 program with less resources than most for a decade, to the extreme circumstances that particular team had to overcome to get there- Utah’s first appearance in the Rose Bowl just might be one of the best sports stories, period, that any of us will have ever witnessed up close.

Add in that the game itself was incredible with the Utes and Ohio State going shot-for-shot for the entire 60-minutes, Utah knocking their debut uniforms out of the park, and a plucky pig farmer from Milford, Utah nearly handing CJ Stroud an “L” off the bench, and you have an incredible script to start your year that could have only been better with a win.

No. 2: The Utes Are Going, Going, Back, Back To Cali, Cali

Incredibly enough Utah ended 2022 the same way they started it: Pac-12 Champions and Rose Bowl bound.

The circumstances surrounding the Utes’ back-to-back Pac-12 Titles is just about as amazing as their poetic dismantling of Caleb Williams and the near College Football Playoff bound USC Trojans. A lot of little things that combined felt very unlikely, had to happen for Utah to be back in Las Vegas and once they were in the City of Sin again, they made sure to let everyone know it wasn’t by accident.

 

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Unfortunately, Utah’s second visit to the Rose Bowl was a little more underwhelming than the first visit, even if the result was ultimately the same, but that’s for the 2023 version of this story which has a lot left to be written.

One thing is for certain, every arrow has to go backward before it propels forward and that is where Utah football currently sits as they await what is next.

No. 3: End Of An Era, USC, UCLA Head For The Big Ten

Yes, this story isn’t exactly about the Utes, more adjacently about Utah and what the future may hold moving forward. And we talked about it…a lot. A LOT.

USC and UCLA absolutely shocked the college football world over the summer by announcing they were going to head to the Big Ten Conference in 2024 after over a hundred years of history with the Pac-12.

This of course sparked all kinds of discussions and debates about what the future of college football would look like and where a budding Utah would fall into that.

Was their resume good enough to eventually join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten? Would the SEC maybe want to move West and add a team? Maybe Utah could fit that need? Perhaps the Utes and Cougars would be joined together once more in the same conference (Big XII) after a decade apart? Maybe Utah would become the top dog in a reimagined Pac-12 that somehow partners with the ACC?

 

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Ultimately, what appears to have settled the reverberations of conference realignment was the expansion of the College Football Playoff from four teams to 12. The move will not officially take place till 2024 and a lot can happen till then, but for now the waters feel calm once more.

No. 4: Utah Lineback Devin Lloyd Goes In The 1st Round Of The 2022 NFL Draft

When you think about the 2022 Utah football Rose Bowl team and where their spunk and spirit came from to keep going in the face of immense adversity with the deaths of teammates Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe three names come to mind.

Quarterback Cam Rising.

Wide receiver Britain Covey.

Linebacker Devin Lloyd.

 

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Only Rising is left on Utah football’s current roster with both Covey and Lloyd enjoying new-found NFL success on top of their college success.

Lloyd’s rise to the NFL was a particularly great story within a great story, and it ultimately earned him a first-round paycheck with the 27th pick of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lloyd became the ninth Ute ever to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and the first since offensive lineman Garett Bolles in 2016.

It also doesn’t hurt the talented, under-the-radar former Ute had a standout rookie season with 115 total tackles, two fumble returns, three interceptions and eight passes defended in the 2022 regular season.

No. 5: The Beginning Of Unwavering Belief- The Utes Upend USC In SLC

Utah’s 2022 football season wasn’t going exactly how most envisioned it would. The Utes weren’t able to get it done at the Swamp, and just the week before, underwhelmed against UCLA in L.A.

One of the earlier suggestions for a College Football Playoff dark horse was firmly out of the race by the beginning of October.

The Utes’ other season goals were still in place, but they needed a win against No. 7 USC which felt like a big ask after their performance against the Bruins.

At the press conference after the Utes’ loss against UCLA, quarterback Cam Rising talked about having “unwavering belief”. Rising doubled-down on that comment after practice in Salt Lake City a few days later before the Trojans rolled into town. The rest as they say, is history.

 

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Utah pulled off the win by a single point, 43-42, on a Rising two-point conversion and a good-enough defensive stand to end the game. Tight end Dalton Kincaid had a career night as well going 16-for-16 for 234 yards, and one touchdown.

No. 6: ‘Bama Wants You- Adventures In NIL

Outside of the blowup over conference realignment, perhaps one of the biggest storylines of the summer for the Utes were the rumors trickling out about Alabama boosters allegedly approaching Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid with a million dollars to transfer to the Crimson Tide.

Naturally this sparked some lively discussion and panic about how a school like Utah will be able to retain their best players moving forward if other schools had the means to use NIL as an incentive to get them to transfer.

Obviously, the alleged player in this instance never left the Utes which quieted the conversation until Athletic Director Mark Harlan did an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde about a situation that arose with an Alabama Collective.

Harlan never named the student-athlete involved in the interview, but it didn’t take much for fans to connect the dots and have some confirmation that the rumors that had circulated around during the summer had some shred of truth to them.

Kincaid has never spoken outright about the situation but did drop a cheeky response to the rumors over the summer with the help of quarterback Cam Rising that endeared both of them to fans for life.

 

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No. 7: Utah Opens Their Season At The Swamp

Utah football in the modern era typically has not gone big to open their seasons. That changed in 2022 with a monster opener on the road against Florida at the Swamp that fans had been anticipating since it was announced back in 2019.

Much like Utah’s first Rose Bowl appearance, the game was wildly entertaining if you didn’t have a horse in the race and disappointing if you were pulling for the Utes who came up short, 29-26.

In retrospect, the 2022 season opener was very much a microcosm for the 2022 season. A lot to be excited about, plenty of flashes, but still some work to do with a dash of absurdity thrown in just for fun.

 

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No. 8: Utah Football Makes History On The Recruiting Trail

Fans came into the 2022 football season fully expecting a Conference Championship and Rose Bowl “bump” for the 2023 signing class and got a little uncomfortable when it looked like it wasn’t going to be a thing.

 

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However, things got really fun close to the early signing period in December. Apparently, beating the breaks off USC and winning back-to-back Pac-12 Titles along with inking back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances is what actually unlocks those recruiting bumps. At least, that was the case for Utah.

The Utes would go on to clean up on the recruiting trail and sign their first-ever Top-25 class in program history.

No. 9: The Red Rocks Continue To Be A Steady Force

Much like Utah football, the Red Rocks seem to defy all logical odds of what is possible.

In a world where women’s sports are over-looked and often neglected, the Utah gymnastics team consistently pulls in sellout crowds and are undeniably the queens of campus.

 

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The Red Rocks are easily one of the longest standing sports dynasties in the country having just gone to their 46th-straight National Championship in 2022. For those keeping track at home, that is every National Championship college gymnastics has ever had, and they are the only team left who has never missed a single one. Utah gymnastics boasts 10 total National Titles and five Pac-12 Titles since joining the league in 2011.

Utah gymnastics is so popular and well-supported that they are in the process of remodeling the Dumke Center where they practice, as well as starting their very own NIL collective, Who Rocks The House before the 2022 year was over.

No. 10: Building Back Utah Basketball

2022 was a productive year for both men’s and women’s basketball up on the hill.

Utah women’s basketball had a break-through after years of trying to end the 2021-2022 season. Lynne Roberts and the Utes made it to the final of the Pac-12 Tournament against storied Stanford for the first time ever in program history while also stamping their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

That progress clearly carried over into the start of the 2022-2023 season for the women, who got off to a solid 13-0 start before the turn of the year.

 

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The men on the other hand have not had it quite as good but are undeniably taking steps in the right direction.

After an abysmal first year for head coach Craig Smith, he immediately got to work making improvements both to his staff and roster in preparation for the 2022-2023 season.

That hard work paid off for the Runnin’ Utes who have far exceeded expectations in the early portion of the new season before the year switched over. Utah toppled No. 4 Arizona at the Huntsman Center while posting a 12-4 record before 2022 ended.

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

 

 

 

 

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The Top 10 Storylines For The Utes In 2022