The Utah football program is receiving plenty of attention leading into the 2022 season, as the reigning Pac-12 champion is seen by some as a dark horse College Football Playoff candidate.

It’s a compelling argument, with the Utes coming off the program’s first Pac-12 title and first appearance in the Rose Bowl.

Can Utah repeat its 2021 Pac-12 superiority in 2022?

During a recent episode of the “Late Kick” podcast, college football expert Josh Pate was asked, of the four non-SEC Power Five reigning conference champions, which one is most likely to repeat?

Pate chose defending Pac-12 champion Utah ahead of the Big Ten’s Michigan (which he picked second-most likely to repeat), the ACC’s Pittsburgh (third) and the Big 12’s Baylor (fourth).

Why are the Utah Utes a favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champions?

Pate pointed to a few things that make the Utes a compelling repeat champion.

Utah returns 67% of its production from the 2021 season, according to the latest numbers from ESPN’s Bill Connelly, which ranks 49th nationally. That’s ahead of Michigan (65%, 65th) and Baylor (47%, 122nd), and just behind Pittsburgh (69%, 45th).

Pate called Utah the most “tailor-made” to repeat, citing the fact junior quarterback Cam Rising is back after breaking out in the 2021 season, and Utah doesn’t have wholesale changes on the offensive and defensive lines.

Pate also called the 2022 Utes “one of the best” athletic teams that Kyle Whittingham has had — that from a team that’s added several transfers this offseason, including former Florida linebacker Mohamoud Diabate.

“They’ve got everything lined up for him because when you play a team like Oregon, or you play a team like USC, how was your situation gonna be any more opportune than both of them having new staffs and you, on the other hand, have one of the most veteran staffs in the country?” Pate said. 

What changes are coming for the Pac-12 championship game in 2022?

The Pac-12 recently announced the league’s conference championship game will now pit the two teams with the highest conference game winning percentage, beginning this season.

Previously, the Pac-12 championship game featured the winner of the North Division vs. the winner of the South Division.

The NCAA, though, relaxed championship game legislation in May that allows conferences to choose their own way to pick the championship game participants.

The last Pac-12 team to win back-to-back conference titles was Oregon, in 2019 and 2020. Prior to that, Stanford won back-to-back Pac-12 titles in 2012 and 2013.