In a highly anticipated showdown, No. 11 Utah and No. 22 UCLA are gearing up for their final conference opener as a member of the Pac-12 Conference. UCLA will be moving on to the Big Ten next year, while the Utes will be moving to the Big 12.
Both teams are entering this crucial Pac-12 clash with spotless 3-0 records — like most of the Pac-12 teams this year — in what looks to be a storybook ending for the Conference of Champions.
To date, the Bruins have faced a bunch of subpar teams and have not really been challenged. Meanwhile, the Utes have done the exact opposite as they’ve faced tough games against Florida and Baylor in back-to-back weeks on top of playing without several key starters, including star quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe.
Rising’s absence stems from an unfortunate ACL injury suffered during the Rose Bowl loss to Penn State at the beginning of the year, while Kuithe tore his ACL on September 24, 2022. The Utes had hoped for their return at the start of the season, but the road to recovery has been longer than anticipated. As we approach kickoff, uncertainty still surrounds the availability of these two offensive standouts, adding an extra layer of intrigue to what is already a marquee matchup.
With conference title implications hanging in the balance, this Pac-12 clash promises to be a thrilling battle between two undefeated squads.
The Spread: Utah -3.5
Money Line: Utah -190, UCLA +155
UCLA vs. Utah: What You Need To Know
UCLA’s toughest challenge yet: While Coastal Carolina and San Diego State provided valuable tune-ups before conference play, Utah presents a different kind of challenge. The Utes will be the first hostile environment UCLA encounters this season, and it’s a pivotal moment for the Bruins. UCLA boasts one of the most favorable schedules in the Pac-12, and a victory in this matchup could swing the door wide open for a potential title run. The stakes are high, the atmosphere is electric, and the pressure is on. UCLA vs. Utah promises to be a defining moment in the 2023 season for both teams.
Utah’s injury status: The suspense lingers over the status of Utah’s star players as Saturday’s game approaches. The big question on everyone’s mind: Will Cam Rising and Brant Kuithe make their long-awaited returns? Signs are pointing towards a positive outcome, but the final verdict is still up in the air. Even if Rising is operating at 90% of his usual self, he remains the undisputed leader for the Utes. His mobility could be a crucial asset against the formidable UCLA defense, which ranks among the best in the Pac-12. In the event that Rising isn’t fit to play, Utah will pin its hopes on the duo of Nate Johnson and Bryson Barnes to carry the offensive load. With each passing week that Rising sits out, the chances of a three-peat for Utah dwindles.
A golden opportunity for Dante Moore: While UCLA head coach Chip Kelly hasn’t made it official, all signs point to Dante Moore taking the reins as the team’s starting quarterback moving forward. Seasoned signal caller Ethan Garbers got the nod in Week 1, but Moore took control in the second half and displayed impressive skills. The true freshman has impressed with a completion rate of 62.7%, amassing 615 yards, seven touchdowns, and only one interception. Facing off against Utah will undoubtedly be the sternest test of Moore’s young career, and it’s happening on the road. A stellar performance from the No. 4 overall player from the 2023 recruiting class could provide a significant confidence boost for the Bruins moving forward.
Prediction: Utah 23, UCLA 20
This game is hard to predict as we still don’t know if Cam Rising is going to play or not. If Rising plays, I expect the Utes to win by more than a touchdown. If he doesn’t, I’m expecting the Utah defense to bring even more pressure in order to create more turnovers and set up short fields for Nate Johnson and the Ute offense.
UCLA has a talent, but they’ve played a weak schedule so far and Dante Moore, a freshman, hasn’t faced a hostile environment before at the collegiate level. Rice-Eccles is one of the toughest venues in all of college football and where the Utes simply don’t lose. The game will be close, but Utah will find a way to come out on top.