PASADENA, Calif. (ABC4 Sports) – The 2022 season ended with bitter disappointment with a 35-21 loss to Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
But there is plenty to look forward to for the Utah football season as it starts to prepare for the 2023 season.
“I love the team that we have coming back next year,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve got a lot of talented players. As disappointed as we are and as bitter as this is, there is still a lot to build on. Overall, this season was a step in the right direction for our program.”
Utah won its second straight Pac-12 championship, and made it to the Rose Bowl for a second straight year, but still, the sting of losing will linger.
“Going to back-to-back Rose Bowls, not a lot of people say they could do that,” said wide receiver DeVaughn Vele, who had five catches for 100 yards in the Rose Bowl. “But at the same time, we wish we would have exectued better and come out as Rose Bowl champions. It doesn’t matter how many times you get to the Rose Bowl, it’s better when you win one.”
Despite the loss, in which Utah got outscored 21-7 in the second half, the Utes took time after the game to appreciate all they accomplished this season.
“There’s a lot of good things that came out of the season,” said Bryson Barnes, who was pressed into quarterback duty for a second straight Rose Bowl after Cam Rising got injured. “We don’t just sit on one game and let that define what happened the whole season. There were a lot of things that happened this season that went well. So, don’t just dwell on the loss.”
“We can’t forget that this program has done things that it has never done before,” said safety R.. Hubert. “So, we’re really grateful for that and we just want to keep moving in that direction.”
There are plenty of questions as to which players will be coming back next season. Clark Phillips III, Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid have all declared for the NFL Draft, and we should find out about Rising’s plans soon. His leg injury, which Whittingham indicated could be serious, may play a factor in his decision.
“I’ve had a chance to talk to Cam,” Barnes said. “He’s doing well. We’ll just wait to see what happens, but he’s a fighter and he’s a competitor. Whatever happens, and whatever is that dude’s way, he’s going to attack it.”
For other players, like running back Micah Bernard, he is not sure if he’ll play football again.
“It was very emotional,” he said. “I still don’t know what I’m doing that. But it feels like that was the last one with this team. So that’s why I was so emotional.”
“I would definitely say heartbroken is the first emotion that comes to mind,” said defensive end Gabe Reid, who finally made a bowl game after playing his first three seasons with Stanford. “It was definitely not the way I wanted to go out in my college career. But the next emotion would be grateful. I definitely feel blessed to be in the situation that I’ve been in. The experiences that I’ve had at Utah, it’s been a real blessing to me.”
With just seven seniors on the roster, whoever comes back, the Utes are confident they can make a run to the newly expanded 12-time College Football Playoff next year.
“I feel really good about our team,” said running back Ja’Quendin Jackson. “I’m not sure who we’re getting in the portal, but I know we’ll have enough talent to make a run.”
The Utes kick off the 2023 season at home September 2nd against Florida.