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Jensen: Utah Must Win Big 12 For 2024 To Be Considered Successful

Jun 13, 2024, 10:57 AM

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SALT LAKE CITY –  The hype surrounding the University of Utah football team as it enters the Big 12 has been swelling for months.

Most people are on the side of forgiving last season’s 8-5 record, which was plagued by injuries. With none more devastating to the Utes than quarterback Cam Rising, but another huge absence was not having tight end Brant Kuithe.

Both players being back will be huge for the Utes this upcoming season.

 

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In three of the past four years – excluding the COVID-19 season – Utah football won double-digit games, two Pac-12 titles, and appeared in three championship games. With Rising back under center and presumably fully healthy now that he will be 19 months removed from the torn ACL he suffered during the 2023 Rose Bowl loss to Penn State, expectations are high for the Utes this year.

This good news for Utah heading into the 2024 season is that multiple national college football pundits are predicting the Utes to be the team to beat in the Big 12. With the newly expanded 12-team college football being implemented this year, being Big 12 champs would give Utah its first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.

National media members aren’t the only ones hyping up the Utes. KSL Sports Zone’s Jeremiah Jensen of JJ & Alex believes for Utah to have a successful season it means winning the Big 12, and making the College Football Playoff. This is assuming Rising is back to his old self.

Yet, he is realistic that if Rising is not back to his prior form, the season may not go as planned.

“This is not fair, but Utah is Big 12 championship or bust with this group,” Jensen said. “You’ve seen the difference in Utah with Cam Rising and the difference without. One wins Pac-12 championships and goes to Rose Bowls, and the other one can’t beat Northwestern in a bowl game.”

What Do Advanced Stats Say About Utah?

While the humans think Utah football will make noise in the Big 12, the computer rankings are not as high on the Utes, specifically ESPN’s Football Power Index.

ESPN’s FPI has Utah 27th overall and fifth in the Big 12 with a projected record of 7.8 wins to 4.4 losses. That number seems a bit low when considering what Utah is returning. The pundits at ESPN also feel Utah should be ranked higher overall.

However, with how tight the Big 12 is expected to be – there are seven teams in the FPI’s top 30 – could the Utes finish worse than fifth?

Anything is possible and an outcome that has Utah finishing lower than fifth is not out of the possibility.

“Could Utah finish fifth in the Big 12 this year? Absolutely,” Jensen said. “Kansas, Kansas State, Arizona and Oklahoma State are all really good football teams. They play two of those teams.”

Alex Kirry is the other have of JJ & Alex and isn’t sure what to make about the Utes not being considered a favorite according to the FPI.

Especially when nearly all of the national college football media have Utah squarely in the running for the Big 12 title.

“Which one is it? I don’t know which one to believe, I think Utah is better than five,” Kirry said.

The bar has been set for Utah football with the return of Rising and moving to a new conference that is considered a little a step down in competition.

The computers feel the Utes are an above average team in the Big 12 but the humans have high hopes for Utah with sights set on a Big 12 title and its first-ever berth to the College Football Playoff.

Tune into JJ & Alex every Monday through Friday, 3-6 p.m. on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM, or subscribe to the podcast. Also, download the all-new KSL Sports app on iOS or Android.

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Jensen: Utah Must Win Big 12 For 2024 To Be Considered Successful