What Utah tie could heavily influence the College Football Playoff race?

It’s been well-established at this point that Utah football is being seen as a College Football Playoff contender in the 2022 season.

The Utes are ranked No. 8 in the USA Today coaches preseason poll released earlier this week, the highest the program has ever been ranked to start a season.

Utah returns a strong contingent of players on both sides of the ball, and is led by Kyle Whittingham, the second-longest tenured head coach in college football.

On Thursday, ESPN’s Bill Connelly ranked the nation’s top 25 players who could have an impact on the College Football Playoff race and, not surprisingly, the Utes’ Cam Rising made it high on the list.

He came in at No. 5, under the category “Quarterbacks with a potential game-changing leap in them.”

Connelly cited what Rising did for the Utes last season when he took over for Charlie Brewer three games into 2021 as to why the junior quarterback could have another big leap in development this year.

“Utah was 1-2 and off the national radar when Rising, a Texas transfer, started his first game last season. The Utes won nine of their next 10 and took their first Pac-12 title as Rising finished the season sixth in total QBR,” Connelly wrote.

“In 352 dropbacks, Rising suffered only five interceptions and six sacks. He was accurate, mistake-free and ridiculously dangerous with his legs (9.0 yards per scramble).”

There are a few other Utah-related ties on Connelly’s list as well.

Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart, the former Roy High and Corner Canyon High quarterback who transferred from USC after his freshman season in 2021, was considered for the list under the category “most important transfers.”

Former Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels, who the Utes recruited heavily, is No. 25, among the “spoiler quarterbacks” category. Daniels transferred to LSU this offseason.

One spot in front of him is Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, who Rising and Utah will face in the season opener. Richardson is going into his first season as a starter after backing up Emory Jones last season.

“Florida’s roster is probably too flawed to win big, but Richardson’s pure potential could derail title hopes for Week 1 opponent Utah and/or contenders and conference foes Georgia and Texas A&M,” Connelly wrote.

The Sept. 3 matchup between Utah and Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium — aka The Swamp — will give Rising the platform to kick-start what could become a momentous 2022 season.

“Can he maintain this level of form with a top-10 spotlight on him this fall and with a line that lost a pair of all-conference performers? And can he and his receivers produce a few more big plays and easy points? A pair of affirmative answers could make the Utes a top-five team,” Connelly concluded about the Utes’ quarterback.

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