Utes at No. 7, Cougars at No. 25 in preseason AP Top 25 rankings

Utah Utes quarterback Cam Rising (7) runs the ball during the Pac-12 championship game against the Oregon Ducks at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

Utah Utes quarterback Cam Rising (7) runs the ball during the Pac-12 championship game against the Oregon Ducks at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY β€” In a sign that college football is close to a return, the Associated Press' preseason Top 25 poll was released Monday, and it included both BYU and Utah in the early look at the season.

Coming off a 10-4 season and a Rose Bowl appearance, Utah opens up the season ranked at No. 7 in the preseason poll, just one spots higher than its No. 8 spot in last week's ranking in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll. It's the third straight season the Utes have been ranked in the preseason poll and only the sixth all time in program history.

The No. 7 ranking is also the highest-ever preseason ranking for the Utes, which previously had not been ranked higher than No. 14 (2009) in the preseason look.

Utah finished the 2021 season with a narrow loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and a No. 12 ranking in the final AP poll. After returning nearly all of its starters on offense, including Cam Rising at quarterback, Utah is expected to have another strong season and was picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll released on the conference's media day.

It's a sign of respect for the Pac-12 team that has only been a member of a Power Five conference for just over a decade. That respect, though, is something that Utah wide receiver Devaughn Vele wants to see turn into fear. The program's leading receiver wants opposing teams to fear Utah as it tries to raise its brand nationally.

"We did it on the national stage: We won a Pac-12 championship, went nose-to-nose with Ohio State β€” everybody respects us," Vele said. "They see us now, they're like that's a really good football team now. But we want it to be a fearful team. Like when people see Alabama on their schedule, it's like, 'Oh, my goodness, it's Alabama. Like, it's the Crimson Tide.'

"We want that same thing for Utah. That's the next step we gotta go to, because now that we're respected, now we need people to fear us. So I feel like that's the drive that's helping everybody on the team right now to make those strides and make the changes that we need to be that team that is feared, not respected."

Also joining the Utes from the Pac-12 in the preseason rankings is No. 11 Oregon and No. 14 USC.

The Ducks were picked to finish second in the Pac-12 in Dan Lanning's first season as head coach of Oregon following a national championship run with Georgia. Oregon returns much of the talent that lifted the program to a Pac-12 championship appearance, but will be locked into a battle for the starting quarterback position, with Auburn transfer Bo Nix as the early favorite for the spot.

The Trojans come off a dismal 2021 season in which Clay Helton was fired as the program's head coach and former Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley made his way to Southern California to resurrect the program. Riley brought with him Heisman hopeful Caleb Williams at quarterback and several other skills players from across the country in a loaded roster expected to immediately compete.

Overlooked in the Coaches Poll, BYU entered the preseason Top 25 at No. 25, which is the first time since 2009 that the Cougars have been ranked in the preseason. The Cougars return essentially its entire starting unit on offense and defense and have a comfortable and confident Jaren Hall under center ready to lead BYU to another double-digit win season.

Despite the sheer number of talent returning for the Cougars, BYU has been overlooked and underrated the entire preseason, and is what CBS Sports writer Dennis Doss a team "no one is talking about" but should.

"Kalani Sitake's steady hand made the Cougars worthy of joining the Big 12. The five Cougars drafted in 2021 tied for the most at the school since 1986," Dodd wrote. "BYU has arrived (again). Have you noticed?"

Still, the preseason rankings will go a long way to help the Cougars amid another tough schedule.

At the top of the rankings is No. 1 Alabama, which features last season's Heisman winner in Bryce Young and several returning players looking to win a national championship again under Nick Saban. Behind the Crimson Tide is No. 2 Ohio State, which has the Heisman finalist in C.J. Stroud and a strong contender for the award this season.

Rounding out the top five in the preseason rankings is defending national champion Georgia at No. 3, followed by No. 4 Clemson and No. 5 Notre Dame.

Football returns to action next Saturday in what has been dubbed Week 0, but the bulk of the teams will open up the season the first weekend of September.

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Josh is the Sports Director for KSL.com and beat writer of University of Utah athletics β€” primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.

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