When looking at the slate of first-week matchups across the college football landscape, few games feel bigger than Florida’s season opener against No. 7 Utah on Saturday.
Florida, of course, is looking to turn the corner on a disastrous 2021 season rather quickly and will do so under new head coach Billy Napier. But it’s Utah, a school that has only faced an SEC opponent seven times in program history, that makes this matchup so interesting.
Utah is a legitimate threat to make the College Football Playoffs this year. After finally claiming a Pac-12 championship in 2021 (the Utes fell short in the big game in 2018 and 2019), Utah blew a two-touchdown lead in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. That helped several draft-eligible starters make the decision to return and Utah even got one of Florida’s top departures through the transfer portal.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise to see the Gators come into Saturday’s contest as underdogs, but most services have the Utes as three-point favorites at best. That’s a pretty close margin of victory for a preseason top-10 team against an opponent that received just 14 votes in the AP Poll. That’s why CBS Sports has the matchup at the top of its list of the “most consequential games of week one.”
Utah needs to prove itself all year long to make the CFP. Beating Florida, an SEC blueblood, is a good way to start off a season with such aspirations, especially if it’s a convincing win. That opportunity isn’t lost on Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.
“When you have a chance to go down to SEC country, play a storied program like Florida with their history in a place like The Swamp, that’s a challenge for our guys,” Whittingham said. “It’s important for the Pac-12 to make noise on the national scene whenever we get opportunities like that.”
However, if the game is as close as experts are predicting or Florida pulls off the upset, it will be hard to see Utah leaving town with a better national reputation than it came in with. Even more, Billy Napier might be immediately hailed as a success at Florida whether it’s warranted or not.
There certainly are some high stakes at play that go beyond a 1-0 record this Saturday. It should be an eventful start to the 2022 season.
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