It was another banner year for Utah athletics in 2022.
Headlining the accomplishments was the football program’s second consecutive Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl berth.
“It’s another step in the right direction in the evolution of our program. We’re a program that’s still hopefully on the rise and trying to make our mark in college football,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We had the breakthrough last year with our first Pac-12 championship. We were preaching to the team all year long this offseason and all through fall camp how it is harder to stay on top than it is to get to the top. The challenge was trying to repeat. Through some unique circumstances, we were able to do that and take another step forward. We’ve just got to keep evolving and keep progressing and stay on this trajectory.”
The No. 8 Utes started 2022 on New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl. And they’ll be starting 2023 on Jan. 2, in the same place, a venerable venue, against Big Ten representative No. 11 Penn State.
After repeating a historic feat of capturing a Pac-12 title and earning a Rose Bowl bid, Utah has an opportunity to do something it’s never done — win a Rose Bowl.
Utah enjoyed successes in other sports, too — skiing, gymnastics, women’s basketball and men’s basketball.
Here’s the 10 most impactful stories at the University of Utah in 2022.
1. Utah overcomes losses, injuries, long odds, to defend Pac-12 title
Some picked the Utes to go to the College Football Playoff this season. But they fell in a heartbreaker at Florida in the season opener.
A month later, Utah lost at UCLA and it appeared its chances of repeating as Pac-12 champs were in peril. But the Utes got back in the race with a victory over USC. Amid it all, Utah saw key players, like tight end Brant Kuithe, go down to season-ending injuries.
Late in the season, Utah suffered a 20-17 setback at Oregon and, once again, its chances of repeating were on life support.
But on the final weekend of the regular season, all four results that the Utes needed to happen fell into place — and, improbably, they found themselves back in the Pac-12 championship game.
Utah knocked off USC to capture the title and clinch a spot in the Rose Bowl.
“It was destined,” quarterback Cam Rising said. “That’s what it felt like.”
2. USC, UCLA announce they’re bolting Pac-12 for Big Ten
Out of the blue in the middle of the summer — on the final day of June, to be specific — the shocking news erupted — USC and UCLA decided to go to the Big Ten Conference in 2024.
That news shook the college sports world and spawned numerous reports about the future of the Pac-12. Will the Pac-12 break up? Or expand? Or merge with the Big 12? Would Pac-12 programs go to the Big 12?
Utah athletic director Mark Harlan addressed the issues during Pac-12 media day in July.
“I think what we have to do is all realize that there are 10 great institutions that are very aligned as we move forward into this new dynamic. We have met twice a week with our presidents and chancellors since this moment happened,” Harlan said. “The athletic directors even more. One thing is very clear — the data is very evident that staying together is a very good option for us. As such, with the board authorized to explore expansion, going through that process as well, there’s a lot of value.”
What was Whittingham’s take on the news of the imminent departure of USC and UCLA?
“Surprised but not surprised,” Whittingham said. “I mean, nothing can really surprise you in college football right now. There’s so much movement and things that have happened through the years. There’s going to be a great deal more change, in my opinion. I think the concept of super conferences is starting to materialize, become a reality.”
3. Utah defeats USC twice — both in memorable fashion
A week after losing at UCLA, the Utes rallied from a 14-point, first-half deficit at Rice-Eccles Stadium to defeat then-No. 7 USC 43-42, culminating with a last-minute touchdown and two-point conversion by Rising. It also featured a career night for tight end Dalton Kincaid, who caught 16 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown.
Nearly two months later, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the Utes battled back from another 14-point, first-half deficit and outscored the Trojans 44-7 the rest of the way to claim a resounding 47-24 triumph to seal another Pac-12 championship.
Utah slowed down eventual Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams over the final three quarters while Rising made a slew of big plays in leading the Utes to a thrilling victory in front of thousands of red-clad Ute fans.
Meanwhile, Utah’s defense, which had struggled at times during the season, limited USC to 56 yards rushing and it sacked Williams seven times. The Trojans converted just 1 of 12 third-down attempts.
4. Utah women’s basketball reaches NCAA Tournament, then picks up where it left off
The Utes won 21 games and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and captured their first victory in the Big Dance since 2009. They demolished Arkansas 92-69 in Austin, Texas.
Utah also reached the Pac-12 tournament championship game for the first time in program history.
“I am incredibly proud of our team,” coach Lynne Roberts said after a loss to Sweet 16-bound Texas. “We’re so young. Our culture is fantastic. Our kids bought in. They play super hard. They’re coachable.”
The Utes were the highest-scoring team in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 75.9 points per game.
Utah parlayed last year’s successes to 10-0 start, including a big victory over then-No. 16 Oklahoma, and a No. 12 ranking in 2022-23.
5. Utah men’s basketball pulls off massive upset
Picked to finish 10th in the preseason Pac-12 poll, the Utes tipped off Pac-12 play in early December with a massive upset over then-No. 4 Arizona at the Huntsman Center — on the 10-year anniversary of the death of legendary coach Rick Majerus.
It also happened the night before the Utah football team defeated no. 4 USC in the Pac-12 championship game.
“Well, that’s a big-time win for our program,” said an emotional coach Craig Smith. “What a great win. Arizona is so good, you just don’t realize (how big of a win it was).”
Was that victory a signal that the Utes are turning the corner after several disappointing seasons in a row?
6. Linebacker Devin Lloyd taken in first round of NFL draft
After having zero players taken in the 2021 NFL draft, on the heels of the infamous COVID-19 season of 2020, Utah got back into the draft business last spring.
Star linebacker Devin Lloyd was selected No. 27 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It was a little bit agonizing at times because he did last a little longer than we thought he would,” said Whittingham, who joined Lloyd, Lloyd’s family and linebackers coach Colton Swan in the green room at the draft in Las Vegas. “But, as I told him, everything happens for a reason. He ended up in a very good spot. … He’s the whole package. Jacksonville got themselves a real gem. I thought he’d be inside that top 20. But it doesn’t matter. … We’re excited to watch him do his thing.”
7. The Red Rocks reach national championships — again
Utah’s gymnastics program hasn’t won a national championship since 1995. But the Red Rocks appeared to be on the cusp of snapping that long drought in 2022.
In the end, Utah finished third overall in the nation for the second consecutive year.
“We are going to hold our heads up high because it was a great year. It is an accomplishment for these athletes in terms of what they have achieved – not only this year, but over the past several years. Much to be proud of this season,” said coach Tom Farden. “It is unbelievable to be out on that floor with so many world class athletes, Olympians, world team members, and national team members everywhere you look. You can see it across the country just how tight competition has become and it speaks volumes about the level our sport is at.”
8. Utah wins third consecutive NCAA skiing championship
Going into the final day of competition last March at Soldier Hollow in Midway, the Utes held a comfortable lead of 27.5 points over Vermont, but they put an exclamation point on things in the two freestyle competitions and finished the week with 578 points to Vermont’s 511.5.
That marked the continuation of an incredible run for the Utes, who also won the title in 2019 and 2021. Additionally, they were leading the competition in 2020 before it was stopped partway through at the beginning of the pandemic.
It was the program’s 15th national title overall.
9. A new $61.8 million indoor football practice facility is approved
Whittingham was naturally thrilled to see that a new indoor practice facility was approved last winter.
“It will be huge. It’s still a couple of years away. We’re going to have a facility eventually that we can kick in and practice the entire football team in,” Whittingham said during spring practice. “The facility we’ve got has been really good to us but we’ve outgrown it. It’s time to upgrade. The sooner that gets in place the better, but it’s probably going to be a couple of years.”
10. Utah picks up big wins in recruiting, transfer portal
On the heels of its back-to-back Pac-12 championship, the Utes reaped more wins in the form of recruiting and transfer portal additions.
Stanford linebacker Levani Damuni announced he’s transferring to Utah; BYU edge rusher Logan Fano announced he’s transferring to Utah; and four-star Timpview offensive tackle Spencer Fano, the younger brother of Logan Fano, also committed to the Utes.
Could those additions, as well as others, contribute to Utah winning a third straight Pac-12 championship in 2023?