Week one of the college football season is finally here, and the Florida Gators will kick off the 2022 season on Saturday night when #7 Utah comes to Gainesville for a showdown in The Swamp. The game is being talked about as one of the most intriguing matchups to open up the season. Billy Napier will be making his debut as the Florida Gators head coach.
Both teams are coming into the season under very different circumstances. Florida is coming off of a 6-7 season filled with so much turmoil under the previous staff. It resulted in Dan Mullen being fired after their loss to Missouri, and closing out the season on a loss to UCF in the Gasprilla Bowl. Kyle Whittingham is entering his 18th season at Utah and has built a great program. The Utes won the Pac-12 conference last season, and are considered one of the favorites to win it again. They earned a bid to the Rose Bowl against Ohio State where they narrowly lost 45-38.
Getting to the matchup, Florida and Utah have only met once in their history, squaring off back in 1977, with the Gators coming out on top 38-29 in Gainesville. The Gators will have a new starting quarterback as Emory Jones left for Arizona State and redshirt sophomore Anthony Richardson returns as the undisputed starter and leader of the team. Junior quarterback Cameron Rising returns for Utah and is widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12. Both quarterbacks are classified as dual-threats and have the ability to make plays in the run game.
Everybody saw when Anthony Richardson played last season that he was clearly the better quarterback but will finally get his time to shine this season under a new regime. Billy Napier will be calling the plays, and I believe he will put AR in the best position to make plays with his arm and his legs. Though he only has one career start, and that came against the eventual national champion Georgia Bulldogs last season, he showed the tools to suggest he can have a big year this year. With Napier being the quarterbacks coach and Ryan O’Hara working with him as well, I expect them to have AR completely ready for the challenging game and season ahead.
Utah comes into the season highly regarded, and for good reason. Along with Cameron Rising returning, they also return standout running back Taivion Thomas, who rushed for over 1,100 yards and 21 touchdowns. They also return one of the most talented tight end groups led by Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid. Defensively, they lost Devin Lloyd, who was a first round pick in last year’s NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Former Florida Gators linebacker Mohamoud Diabate will make his return to The Swamp as the starting middle linebacker. In the secondary, sophomore cornerback Clark Phillips III returns as an All-American candidate. They’ve been one of the best defenses in the country for the past few years, and I expect that to continue this season.
I expect Florida to try to be fairly balanced on the offensive end, with slightly more emphasis on running the ball due to the stable of running backs they have. Nay’Quan Wright, Montrell Johnson, Trevor Etienne and Lorenzo Lingard will all get carries for the Gators. They’re all different backs that each have unique qualities that make them special players. Xzavier Henderson and Justin Shorter return at the wide receiver position, but Arizona State transfer Ricky Pearsall brings speed and experience to the room that it was lacking before his arrival. He was the leading receiver for the Sun Devils last season. The offensive line returns an experienced group, including Louisiana transfer and All-American candidate O’Cyrus Torrance. Dante Zanders, Keon Zipperer and Nick Elksnis all return at tight end, and I expect all three of them to be contributors. Utah is a great football team, so this won’t be an easy challenge for Florida. Richardson is gonna have to make plays with his arm and legs. The offensive line needs to be able to get a push up front allowing the running backs to get to the second level of the defense if they want to have a chance to score points consistently.
I expect the defense to be much better at the line of scrimmage with Brenton Cox Jr., Gervon Dexter Sr., Jalen Lee and Princely Umanmielen all returning. They have to be able to get pressure on the Utes quarterback to get him out of rhythm. Ventrell Miller returning at linebacker was big for the Gators because they sorely missed his leadership on the field when he went down with an injury early last season. Amari Burney is also back for his senior season looking to improve from last season, but has talented freshman LB Shemar James nipping at his heels for playing time and will likely see a good bit of it due to his impressive athletic ability. I also expect Junior Diwun Black to get a good amount of playing time as well, especially on special teams where he should thrive.
The secondary returns All-American candidate Jason Marshall at cornerback along with Avery Helm starting on the other side. Both players should be able to build on last season and be improved players. Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber and standout true freshman Devin Moore will likely get their fair share action as well. I expect Moore in particular to get a lot of playing time and also wouldn’t be shocked if he was starting on the other side of Marshall by the end of the season. Rashad Torrance and Trey Dean return as the starting safeties. Donovan McMillon and former five-star true freshman Kamari Wilson will also make a major impact in Patrick Toney’s defense as well.
I expect the Florida-Utah game to be a very close game between two really good teams. Florida has a chance to put the country on notice and get a big win over a top 10 team who has college football playoff aspirations. The Swamp is gonna be an electric atmosphere and the crowd will definitely make an impact. With a bevy of high profile recruits in town, a win would give the Florida Gators a lot of confidence for the rest of the season that they can play with anybody they line up against.
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