3 teams ready to challenge Utah football for Pac-12 2022 crown

The Utah Utes had a memorable run in 2021 as they zoomed into the top of the Pac-12 with a conference title, even beating the Oregon Ducks twice in three weeks along the way. Utah football will once again be a huge threat to the rest of the Pac-12, but they also have a huge target on their backs. With that said, here are the top three biggest thorns on the side of Utah in the upcoming 2022 college football season.

3 Pac-12 teams ready to challenge Utah football in 2022

3. UCLA Bruins

Experience in the backfield is going to be a huge weapon for UCLA football. The Bruins are not just having Dorian Thompson-Robinson back in the fold for another year but will also be the home still of Zach Charbonnet. Those are two players on the same team just a season after they both ranked inside the top 10 in the Pac-12 in terms of rushing yards per game; Thompson-Robinson was 10th in 2021 with an average of 55.6 rushing yards per game while Charbonnet was high up in second overall in the league with 94.75 rushing yards per contest.

Thompson-Robinson’s return also ensures the Bruins of a dual-threat quarterback who passed for 2,409 yards and 21 touchdowns against six interceptions in 2021. The Bruins lost to Utah in embarrassing fashion last year, but that 44-24 setback in Salt Lake City came also at the time when UCLA football did not have Thompson-Robinson on the field due to an injury he sustained in the prior contest against the Oregon Ducks. Still under Chip Kelly and with their top quarterback and running back last year coming back to serve for another season, the Bruins can be expected to wreak havoc anew offensively.

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For UCLA to take that next step, the onus will be on its defense which was regularly abused in 2021 when it allowed 26.8 points per game and ranked 103rd nationally with opponents gashing its stop unit for 260.2 passing yards per contest. The Bruins hired former NFL assistant Bill McGovern to…uhm…govern their defense that now features the Murphy twins (Gabriel and Grayson) who come over from North Texas to provide depth and additional talent on the edges.

2. Oregon Ducks

The Ducks got destroyed by Utah in the 2021 Pac-12 Championship Game, 38-10, but fresh faces on Oregon’s coaching staff and roster will be there to help the program exact revenge on the Utes and come out on top of the conference after falling just a win short of accomplishing that. Dan Lanning brings an air of excellence to Eugene. Prior to working full-time as Oregon football’s head coach, Lanning was busy drawing plans for the Georgia Bulldogs’ championship-winning defense. With that kind of background, Lanning is rightfully expected to transform Oregon into a much better defensive team. In 2021, the Ducks gave up an average of 27.0 points per game, ninth in the Pac-12. Their pass defense was just eighth in the conference with opponents airing out 241.4 passing yards on average. Lanning has already started plugging the holes in Oregon’s defense.

Right after Georgia won the national title over the Alabama Crimson Tide, Lanning was on the phone recruiting four-star cornerback Jahlil Florence, who eventually signed up to be part of the Ducks nation. Lanning isn’t also the high-profile SEC transferee to Oregon. There’s also quarterback Bo Nix, who held the quarterbacking reins for the Auburn Tigers. The expectation is that Nix will be the starter in 2022 for Oregon, considering his experience and familiarity with offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who also worked with Nix in Auburn. But he is facing competition with Ty Thompson or Jay Butterfield. In any case, depth and experience in the most important position don’t seem to be a problem at all for the Ducks, who had Anthony Brown under center a season ago. In three years at Auburn, Nix collected 7,251 passing yards, 39 passing touchdowns, and 16 interceptions.

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1. Leaflet Trojans

The Trojans finished just fourth in the Pac-12 South division in 2021 with a mere 3-6 conference record to go along with a 4-9 overall slate. But while the 2021 college football season was not one for the books for USC football, the 2022 offseason definitely is, as the Trojans saw Lincoln Riley bolting from the Oklahoma Sooners to be the next head coach of the Pac-12 program.

Riley arrives at USC with a truckload of transfers, including Caleb Williams, his quarterback back in Norman. Sooners wide receiver Mario Williams is also now a Trojan, ready to help USC’s transition from Clay Helton to Riley, who is a proven college football mind. During Riley’s reign at Oklahoma, the Sooners consistently cracked the top 5 of the AP Poll during the season. The Trojans were just 56th nationally in 2021 with 28.7 points per game, but Riley’s arrival together with a quarterback who is extremely familiar with his system and ways should definitely take USC’s offense higher.

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