The start of Florida football’s 2022 campaign is just a couple of days away as the Gators get set to host the Utah Utes this Saturday. The excitement is running high with new head coach Billy Napier making his debut in front of a sold-out crowd on what should be a hot and humid night in the Swamp.
The Orange and Blue face a formidable opponent in their Pac-12 counterparts, who come into the game ranked in the top 10 by both major polls carrying some lofty expectations of their own. Winners of their conference last year, the Beehive State boys return with a packed roster that includes former Gator Mohamoud Diabate, who headed out west via the transfer portal during the offseason.
With all of that in mind, the Gators Wire roundtable assembled to give their respective takes on the first game of the Napier era along with a composite result comprising of each person’s predictions. Take a look below at what the six of us had to say for the first game day of 2022.
Adam Dubbin - Managing Editor
I am cautiously optimistic going into the first game of the Billy Napier era. There’s a new coaching staff, a new philosophy and some new faces on the field as well that will hopefully synergize into a well-tuned machine.
However, Florida’s season-opening opponent arrives in Gainesville among the top-ranked teams in the country. While many question whether the visitors truly are deserving of their top-10 status what is unquestionable is that they present a tough matchup come game day.
The good news is that UF has the home-field advantage, with includes the thick, humid air that the Swamp is known for, as well as a penchant for first-year coaches to overachieve. If the ground game goes the way we think it will under the new skipper, I think the Gators will pull this one off in a modest scoring affair.
Florida 27, Utah 23
David Rosenberg - Assistant Editor
It’s tough to predict a game like this. On paper, Utah should win, right? The Utes won the Pac-12 for the first time last season, and a group of draft-eligible players decided to return after blowing they blew a 14-point first-half lead in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. There’s talent, motivation and a recent history of winning to back up Utah’s resume.
Florida has talent and motivation, but last year’s record left a lot to be desired. Dan Mullen left many holes in this program despite multiple New Year’s Six appearances, and Billy Napier has been in damage control mode since he got to Gainesville. His cool demeanor might help mask some of his bigger concerns heading into the season opener, but Napier has been straight-forward about his expectations for Saturday. He expects mistakes and to have to make the kind of adjustments you can only make while in-game.
The question is whether limiting those mistakes will be enough to put Florida over a top-10 team. I think it will be, but it will take a solid performance from Anthony Richardson. Florida can’t afford to rely solely on its rushing attack to beat Utah, which was a top-20 team against the run last year. Richardson needs to establish an early rhythm with his receivers to open up the ground game for the second half, and the defense needs to make sure that there is a second half.
If Utah is playing under pressure late in the Swamp, they’ll be the ones to make the mistake. Florida takes this one in a nail-biter on national television and the Billy Napier era starts with a bang.
Florida 27, Utah 24
Pat Dooley - Staff Writer
Billy Napier is trying to build a roster and establish a culture at Florida. It’s already been accomplished at Utah. The humidity will only be a factor if Florida can keep it close into the fourth quarter.
This is only Game 1 for Napier. I believe this team will be better at the end of the season than at the beginning.
Utah 35, Florida 19
Sergio De La Espriella - Staff Writer
In a typical season opener, the Gators would be playing a team that they should beat comfortably. This year, that’s not the case. Defending Pac-12 champions Utah are coming into Gainesville to give Billy Napier a tough opening challenge. The excitement around the program is there. Napier’s recruiting has given Florida fans a sense of optimism. That sense of euphoria is easy to drum up when you haven’t played a game yet.
Which brings us to Saturday.
The four and five-star players that Blue Chip Billy has been recruiting won’t help the Gators on the field this season. But it’s not all gloom and doom. Anthony Richardson is poised to show off all the potential that we see in him. The secondary is being coached up by Corey Raymond, a man with a fantastic track record in developing defensive backs. And if camp is any indication, we should see fewer self-inflicted mistakes under the Napier regime.
Gators fans can take some comfort in having the game being played at home in the humid heat, but ultimately that won’t be enough to win the game. This is a game that will be defined by talent, and it’s quite difficult to see a world in which Florida outright dominates Utah. If Florida wants a chance to win this game, it’ll have to be on the ground, targeting Utah’s weak spot in defending the run game. While I expect the defense to look better, I think it’ll take time for the Gators to be competitive for four quarters against a playoff contender like Utah.
The Utes will pull away late after a competitive showing in Napier’s first game at the helm. There will be a lot of positives to take from this game, the result not being one of them.
Utah 34, Florida 24
Jay Markle - Staff Writer
Utah is one heck of an opponent to kick off the season. I respect the guts it takes to open the non-con schedule with a tough game, but I have to squint to see this going well for Florida. I believe in what Napier is building in Gainesville, but the Utes are too much and too early for this team.
Particularly concerning to me are two key matchups on the Utah roster: cornerback Clark Phillips III and tight end Brant Kuithe. Phillips is a little undersized at 5-foot-10-inches, but the former 51st overall prospect is smooth in the field, has soft hands, and hits like a freight train. The Gators may not have the kind of dominant receiver to overcome him or enough depth to make up for it if he overwhelms the number-one target.
Kuithe is a receiving tight end who causes problems over the middle of the field and averaged 13 yards per catch last year. From a talent perspective, the current linebacking corps isn’t exactly the pride and joy of this roster. Defensive coordinator Patrick Toney has a reputation for clever scheming, but his specialty is pressure, not coverage. If the Gators aren’t able to lock down the second-level defense, Kuithe will stomp all over them.
This one isn’t out of reach if Anthony Richardson comes out of the gate with all cylinders firing, the offensive line is opening running lanes early and often, and Toney’s “creepers and sleepers” scheme can manufacture pressure throughout the game. If any of those elements are lacking, this will be a deeply frustrating gameday experience.
Utah 31, Gators 20
Tyler Nettuno - Gators Wire Alumnus
Florida really couldn’t have asked for a more difficult matchup to kick off the Billy Napier era. Utah returns a lot and is coming off a Pac-12 title. This is a team with fringe playoff hopes, and it should be ready to go in this one.
I expect the Gators to be a significantly improved team this fall, especially if Richardson can reach his full potential. I certainly expect them to be competitive in this game, especially under the lights and in front of what should be an electric crowd at the Swamp. If it can take advantage of some early-season rust from Utah, UF has a fighting chance.
I can certainly talk myself into Napier beginning his tenure on a high note with an upset win, but Florida just has too many questions compared to its opponent for me to confidently predict that.
Utah 31, Florida 24
Editor’s note: Tyler is also the managing editor of LSU Tigers Wire
Four of the six roundtable respondents predicted the Utes to finish on top, and the two who selected the Gators to win did so by a narrow margin in a lower-scoring affair. However, the final totals lean heavily in Utah’s favor despite the narrow odds the bookmakers have for the game heading into Saturday.
The consensus among the Gators Wire roundtable is that the visitors will prevail over the home team by a touchdown and missed PAT margin.
Utah 30, Florida 24
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