For the first time since 1991, the Florida Gators are playing a non-conference road game outside the state of Florida.
Not only will they be making the cross country trek to Utah, but the Gators will be playing at Rice Eccles Stadium which is one of the toughest places to play in all of college football. The Utes simply don’t lose at home, and are 12-1 in home openers under head coach Kyle Whittingham.
Thursday’s showdown between the 14th ranked Utes and the Gators should be another classic after last year’s down-to-the-wire finish in the Swamp. In that game, Florida upset Utah 29-26 thanks to a game-winning interception in the end zone with just seconds left in the contest.
While the Gators will be looking to pull off another upset, the Utes, on the other hand, continue to ride a wave of success. After a 10-4 season last year and another trip to the Rose Bowl, the Utes have high expectations again to secure another 10-win season and to repeat as Pac-12 champions.
As the anticipation builds for the showdown, all eyes are on Utah’s quarterback Cam Rising, who is on the mend from a torn ACL. Ute fans are crossing their fingers that the dual-threat quarterback can play Thursday night. On the flip side, the Florida Gators will be placing their hopes in Graham Mertz a 3-year starter who transferred from Wisconsin.
Date: Thursday, Aug. 31
Time: 6:00 p.m. MT
Announcers: Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Holly Rowe
Location: Rice Eccles Stadium (51,144) — Salt Lake City, Utah
Florida 38, Utah 29 (1977)
Florida 29, Utah 26 (2022)
The Spread: Utah -4.5
Money Line: Utah -205, Florida +170
When betting lines first opened, Utah jumped as high as a 10-point favorite. However, throughout the week it dropped to as low as 3.5 with news that Cam Rising may not be playing. The over/under has dropped down to 44.5 with the money line favoring Utah at -205. The money line simply involves picking the winning team. With Utah at -205, those picking the Utes would have to risk $205 to win $100. However, for those picking Florida, one would win $170 for his/her $100 wager.
SP+, a predictive analytics tool created by ESPN’s Bill Connelly, has Utah beating Florida 32-25. Bill gives Utah a 67% chance of beating the Gators, although this is lower than what ESPN’s Football Power Index is giving the Utes. As of right now, the FPI gives Utah a 74% chance of beating Florida.
Establishing the run will be critical for the Gators in their quest to upset No. 14 Utah for a second consecutive season. Florida averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season, finishing with the best team rushing average since 2009 and the fourth highest in program history. The Utes won’t make it easy to run the ball. Utah held seven opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards in 2022 and finished second in the Pac-12 in rushing defense.
For Florida, with a number of starters back on both sides of the ball, and an infusion of talent from the transfer portal, the Gators look to take a big step forward after a disappointing 6-7 season last year.
Quarterback Graham Mertz didn’t throw the ball a lot at Wisconsin, but when he did, he was accurate completing more than 60% of his passes and most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over. With more weapons on offense, with playmakers Ricky Pearsall, Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne, the Utes defense will certainly have its hands full.
For the Utes, it’s all about who starts at quarterback. Cam Rising is special, really special, which is why the Utes were favored by 10 points at one point as it looked like he was going to play. While Whittingham says it will be a game-time decision, it’s likely that he won’t suit up and the ball will be given to backup Bryson Barnes to take over. Barnes appeared in 13 games so he has experience, but he’s no Cam Rising. Look for the Utes to rely mostly on the run game with Barnes only throwing it if they have to.
Prediction: Utah 23, Florida 20
I expect this game to come down to the wire again and give fans another exciting finish. With what will be certainly be another sellout crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and playing at home where the Utes don’t lose — winning 14 straight home games and is 25-1 in its last 26 years — I don’t see that streak ending anytime soon.
After Florida escaped with three-point win last year, I think it will be the Utes who win by the same margin this year. I expect the Utes to run the ball a lot, using long drives to make the game shorter and keep Florida’s offense off the field and out of rhythm (hence my low scoring prediction). .
Lastly, Whittingham is one of the best coaches in all of college football and you know he’ll have his team ready to go in the revenge game. And with Utah’s terrific home field advantage, hosting their first SEC opponent at home to open the season, and to a program they’ve never beaten before, everything lines up for a memorable night at Rice-Eccles.