Florida is just one day away from kicking off the 2023 college football season on the road against Utah.
The Gators are a bit more familiar with the Utes this season after hosting them in the Swamp, but Florida’s roster features a ton of first-year talent. Many of the key players for Utah are returners, though, and they are all looking for revenge after taking a loss in Gainesville.
Each week Gators Wire will take a look at five players on the opposing roster that Florida fans should be at least familiar with.
These are the five Utes that every Gators fan should know heading into Week 1.
QB Cam Rising
Cam Rising is the most interesting man on Utah’s roster. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12, if not the country, but an ACL injury in early January has kept him questionable leading up to the game. Rising and Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham are keeping the Gators guessing, but Florida will prepare for “all of the above,” according to Billy Napier.
Most Gators fans are hoping Rising won’t play. It’s much easier to get to a backup (or third-string in this case) on the road than it is to rattle a starter. Rice-Eccles is Rising’s house. He’ll play better than his 216-yard, one-touchdown performance in the Swamp a year ago, if healthy.
All eyes will be on Rising Thursday.
TE Brant Kuithe
Regardless of who starts at quarterback for Utah, tight end Brant Kuithe is likely going to be a popular target. He torched the Gators for 105 yards and a touchdown on nine catches last year and is once again the biggest threat on offense for the Utes.
Well… that’s assuming he’s healthy.
Kuithe is also coming back from an ACL injury, but he went down last September. If Rising is close to playing, Kuithe should be too. He’s been described as day-to-day, so he’s clearly healing slower than Rising.
Whittingham isn’t giving too much information on Kuithe, so he’ll be another game-time decision.
WR Devaughn Vele
If Kuithe is out, the top option in the passing game should be Devaughn Vele, a junior who caught 55 passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns last year. He only brought in three catches for 36 yards against Florida, but Kuithe and running back Tavion Thomas were doing significant damage.
Junior safety Cole Bishop led the Utes in tackles (83) a season ago and figures to be the leader of the secondary now that cornerback Clark Phillips III is in the NFL. He was a Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention last year and had one of his best games of the season against Florida.
He led Utah with 12 total tackles (seven solo), including 0.5 tackles for a loss, against the Gators last season. Look for Graham Mertz to test the other side of the field whenever Florida does pass.
LB Karene Reid and LB Lander Barton
Utah has a strong linebacker corps in the middle of its defense. Karene Reid is entering his junior year at Utah and second season as a full-time starter for the Utes. He was an All-Conference player in 2023 and led the linebacker room with 72 tackles. Reid will be the senior linebacker, but there’s another player in the position room who should make some noise against Florida as well.
Lander Barton’s family has been synonymous with Utah sports for decades, and he broke out as a freshman last season. Barton was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year after finishing 2023 with 46 tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
If Florida’s running game struggles, it will probably be because of Barton and Reid.
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