Utah is coming into the Big 12 favored to win a title in yet another league

Utah has won 26 conference championships in five different leagues, most recently capturing two Pac-12 titles and appearing in four championship games during its 13 seasons in that league

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Utah has won 26 conference championships in five different leagues, most recently capturing two Pac-12 titles and appearing in four championship games during its 13 seasons in that league.

Now the Utes are favored to win the Big 12 in their inaugural season in the league, according to the preseason media poll.

“It’s much different than when we went into the Pac-12 because we were coming from G5 to P5, and we were not really on an even playing field yet,” coach Kyle Whittingham said Tuesday during Big 12 football media days. “We feel we’re definitely on an even playing field now and we have a chance to compete for a title right away. We’ve got a terrific roster, a great quarterback, and all the pieces are in place.”

Whittingham is going into his 20th season with the Utes, having also coached them in the Western Athletic and Mountain West before they became Pac-12 members in 2011.

Utah is getting a big boost for its Big 12 debut with the return of 6-foot-2 senior quarterback Cameron Rising after he missed last season with a knee injury.

“I’m excited to watch him play again,” Whittingham said. “I mean, he’s a terrific leader, terrific player, really the alpha dog of our football team. He’s got the respect of everybody on the team. He’s got that it factor at quarterback where he makes everybody around him better. And when he’s in at quarterback he just exudes confidence and players believe in him. They believe in him 100%.”

Rising threw for 3,034 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2022, when he led the Utes to a win over USC and Caleb Williams in the Pac-12 title game.

Wildcat On The Prowl

Avery Johnson took over as the Kansas State quarterback when veteran Will Howard decided to transfer to Ohio State.

Johnson may have been the Wildcats starter this season even if Howard had returned for a fifth season. Johnson's first start came in the Pop-Tarts Bowl after Howard entered the transfer portal, with the former top recruit throwing two touchdowns and running for 71 yards and another score in a win over North Carolina State.

Kansas State was picked second in the Big 12 preseason poll with Johnson going into his sophomore season.

"I feel like it played a big role, just being able to go out there and kind of knock the dust off and get that first start out of the way,” Johnson said Tuesday. “It was a lot of fun, just being able to go out there and play confidently with the guys around me. They really made my job easy.”

Believing In Vegas

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark mentioned Las Vegas nine times during his opening address, emphasizing how important it was for the league to establish a long-standing relationship in what has become a sports hotbed. That could lead to an eventual association with the Las Vegas Bowl, which remains committed to the SEC, Big 10 and the previous members of the Pac-12 Conference for the next two years.

“I’m confident at the right time we will have a formal affiliation with the Las Vegas Bowl,” Yormark said. “This market is critically important. ... We need to be here in Vegas for all the right reasons. ... Entertainment and sports capital of the world, so critically important market for us in the future.”

Las Vegas Bowl Executive Director John Saccenti, who was in attendance, said with the Big 12 now well-represented across the country, it makes sense to eventually be aligned with the league.

“With these conferences expanding to more teams and with them all having national footprints, I want us to be in a good position to have some flexibility with as many folks as possible to continue to put the best matchup that’s good for the destination," Saccenti said.

Sideline Surfaces

The Big 12 and Microsoft announced Tuesday that the technological giant will provide Surface devices to each football program this fall to use on the sideline and in the coaching booth.

The tablets will enable players and coaches to access immediate footage for review of in-game action. They are the same devices used by all 32 NFL teams.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the use of tablets to view in-game videos earlier this year. Teams can have up to 18 active tablets for use in the coaching booth, sideline, and locker room. But the tablets can't be connected to other devices to project larger additional images and cannot include analytics, data or data access capability or other communication access.


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