Published on Tuesday, 8/29/23, at 7:19 p.m. Eastern.
Updated on Thursday, 8/31/23, at 5:15 p.m. Eastern.
Week 1 will start Thursday night with four games that feature at least one program from each Power-Five conference in action. Let’s take a quick look at all four matchups.
**Kent St. at Central Florida**
-As of Tuesday, most books had Central Florida listed as a 37-point home favorite with a total of 56. The Golden Flashes were +2200 on the money line at Caesars. For first-half wagers, DraftKings had UCF favored by 21.5 points with a total of 30.5.
-According to the weather.com at 7:45 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, the forecast for Orlando on Thursday night was calling for 5-10 mile per hour winds and an 80 percent chance of rain. Orlando was expected to get an inch of rain on Wednesday and winds of 25-35 mph.
-UCF is moving into the Big 12 for the third season of Gus Malzahn’s tenure. In Year 1, Malzahn went 9-4 straight up and 5-8 against the spread, capping the season with a 29-17 win over Florida as a seven-point underdog at the Gasparilla Bowl. The Knights finished 2022 with a 9-5 SU record and a 7-7 ATS ledger. They bring back eight starters on offense and seven on defense.
-According to the 247Sports Composite, UCF brought in the #38 overall recruiting class and the #32 group in terms of transfer-specific players. The Knights have 18 transfers, including nine players from Power-Five programs and one four-star transfer, defensive lineman Derrick LeBlanc. However, two transfers – QB Timmy McClain from USF and LeBlanc from Oklahoma – are awaiting word on their appeals to the NCAA for immediate eligibility.
-UCF’s offense scored at a 32.9 points-per-game clip last season. QB John Rhys Plumlee started nine of 14 games, but he spent most of the season playing through multiple injuries and obviously missed five games. He still had a team-high 862 rushing yards (1,019 before subtracting sack yardage) and 11 touchdowns with a 5.4 yards-per-carry average. Plumlee completed 63.0 percent of his passes for 2,586 yards with a 14/8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He garnered second-team All-AAC honors in 2022.
-UCF junior WR Javon Baker is Plumlee’s favorite target. Baker had 56 receptions for 796 yards and five TDs, while junior Kobe Hudson had 39 catches for 641 yards and seven TDs. RB RJ Harvey was a second-team All-AAC pick after producing 796 rushing yards, five TDs and a 6.7 YPC average. Harvey also caught 22 balls for 215 yards.
-UCF’s defense allowed an average of 23.6 PPG last year. This unit lost defensive coordinator Travis Williams, who bolted to take the same job at Arkansas. The new DC is Addison Williams, who is entering his third year on the staff after serving as DBs coach the last two seasons.
-The UCF defense is led by junior LB Jason Johnson, who was a first-team All-AAC choice in 2022 when he recorded 126 tackles, five QB hurries, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one sack. Johnson is a first-team All-Big-12 selection in Phil Steele’s preseason magazine. He was a transfer from Eastern Illinois playing at the FBS level for the first time last year. Johnson was a two-time, FCS All-American who led the Ohio Valley Conference in tackles (112) in 2021 and was tied for the lead nationally in fumble recoveries with four.
-Steele’s National Unit Rankings have UCF at #24 at QB, #32 at RB, #33 at WR, #38 on the offensive line, #59 on the d-line and #40 in the secondary.
-UCF has four players who are preseason second-team All-Big-12 choices in Steele’s magazine: Baker, offensive guard Lokahi Pauole, LB Rian Davis and punt returner Xavier Townsend. Davis, a transfer from Georgia, played in 14 games for the Bulldogs last year, contributing 15 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. DT Ricky Barber, DE Tre’Mon Morris-Brash and kicker Colton Boomer are preseason third-team All-Big-12 choices, and Harvey and CB Decorian Patterson are preseason fourth-team All-Big-12 picks. Patterson is a transfer from Middle Tennessee who has produced 183 tackles, 30 passes broken up, 10.5 TFL’s, nine interceptions 2.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 48 career games. He posted career-best numbers in 2022 with 65 tackles, 12 PBU and seven interceptions.
-In all my years of soaking up intel on every FBS program within the pages of Steele’s preseason magazine, I can’t recall once that any team had zero returning starters on either side of the ball. That changed this summer with Kent St., which has zero starters back on offense. They have four starters back on defense.
-After five seasons as head coach, Sean Lewis left to join Coach Prime’s staff as offensive coordinator at Colorado. Lewis has been replaced by Kenni Burns, who spent the last six years at Minnesota as running backs coach. He was also PJ Fleck’s Assistant Head Coach since 2019. The 39-year-old Burns was a RB at Indiana from 2003-2006 during his playing days, and he also spent four years on Craig Bohl’s staff at Wyoming.
-Kent St. finished last season 5-7 both SU and ATS. The Golden Flashes were -183 in net yardage and had a turnover margin of zero (or even). They lost 28 lettermen, return 32 and added eight transfers, including seven from Power-Five programs.
-Kickoff from FBC Mortage Stadium in Orlando is set for 7:00 p.m. Eastern on Fox Sports 1.
**North Carolina State at UConn**
-As of Tuesday, most books had NC St. installed as a 14.5 or 15-point favorite with a total of 46.5. The Huskies were +500 on the money line. For first-half bets, the Wolfpack were favored by 7.5 points with a total of 23.5. UConn had +330 odds to go into halftime with the lead. Those numbers were still the same on Wednesday morning.
-NC St. went 8-5 SU but was an abysmal 4-9 ATS in 2022. The Wolfpack finished the season +168 in net yardage and +6 in turnover margin. They went 5-1 with Devin Leary as their starting QB, but he sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in a 19-17 win over FSU as 3.5-point home ‘chalk.’ Leary, who had an incredible 35/5 TD-INT ratio in 2021, left the program after the season and transferred to Kentucky.
-With Leary gone, Virginia transfer Brennan Armstrong is the new starting QB. In 2021 at UVA, Armstrong completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 4,449 yards with a 31/10 TD-INT ratio. The dual-threat lefty also had 251 rushing yards and nine TDs, in addition to an 18-yard TD reception. But his entire offensive line graduated or transferred when Bronco Mendenhall resigned as head coach following the 2021 campaign. In 2022, Armstrong and the Cavaliers struggled to a 3-7 SU record and a 4-8 ATS mark. He completed merely 54.7 percent of his throws for 2,210 yards with a 7/12 TD-INT ratio. Armstrong had 371 rushing yards and six TDs last year. He is UVA’s all-time leader in career passing yards (9,034). Armstrong also has 20 career rushing TDs and a 58/35 career TD-INT ratio.
-NC St. returns seven starters from an offense that averaged 24.3 PPG. The defense gave an average of 19.2 PPG, but this unit has only five starters back and lost five of its top-six tacklers.
-NC St. senior LB Payton Wilson was a fourth-team All-ACC selection in 2022 when he had 82 tackles, 12.5 TFL’s, seven QB hurries, 4.5 sacks, three PBU and one interception. He was a first-team All-ACC pick in 2020 when he led the league in tackles (108) and was fourth in the country. Wilson went down with a season-ending injury in Week 2 of the 2021 campaign. He has 264 career tackles, 30.5 TFL’s, nine sacks and four interceptions.
-Steele’s National Unit Rankings have NC St. at #23 at QB, #14 on the d-line, #27 at LB, #18 in the secondary and #33 on special teams.
-NC St. HC Dave Doeren made an outstanding hire in new OC Robert Anae, who was with Armstrong at Virginia and served as the Cavs’ OC from 2016-21. Anae was OC at Syracuse last season and did an excellent job with QB Garrett Shrader, who went from a 52.6 completion percentage in 2021 to 64.7% last season.
-Wilson and CB Aydan White are NC St.’s only representatives among Steele’s preseason first-team All-ACC selections. OG Dylan McMahon is the Wolfpack’s only preseason second-team All-ACC choice, while CB Shyheim Battle and safety Jakeen Harris are NC St.’s players among Steele’s preseason third-team All-ACC picks.
-White started all 13 games in 2022, recording 46 tackles, nine PBU, four interceptions for 84 return yards, four TFL’s, one sack and one pick-six. Battle had 34 tackles, five PBU, two TFL’s and two interceptions in 2022, while Harris had 20 tackles, two interceptions and two PBU.
-Jim Mora Jr. was an absolute miracle worker in his first season as HC at UConn. The Huskies won a total of four games from 2018-21, going 1-11 in 2018, 2-10 in 2019, 0-0 in 2020 (pandemic) and 1-11 in 2021. The four wins in that stretch came vs. Rhode Island, vs. Wagner, at UMass and vs. Yale, so it was only one win against an FBS foe. But in 2022, UConn compiled a 6-7 SU record and a 9-4 ATS mark.
-UConn won five of its last seven regular-season games to become bowl eligible, including a 19-14 win over eventual Mountain West Conference champ, Fresno St., as a 23-point home underdog and a 13-3 win over Boston College as a 7.5-point home underdog. The Huskies also beat 19th-ranked Liberty 36-33 as 14-point home ‘dogs.
-UConn went 5-1 both SU and ATS in six home games last year, going 3-1 both SU and ATS as a home underdog.
-UConn finished the year at the Myrtle Beach Bowl, where it lost 28-14 to Marshall as a 12-point underdog. The Huskies had a 316-303 advantage in total yards, but they were -2 in turnover margin.
-UConn was -1,004 in net yardage last season and +1 in turnover margin.
-UConn junior OG Christian Haynes earned second-team All-American honors last season. He anchors an offensive line that returns four starters. Haynes is a preseason third-team All-American in Steele’s magazine.
-Steele’s National Unit Rankings have the Huskies at #49 on the o-line and #67 at LB.
-UConn senior LB Jackson Mitchell is a preseason fourth-team All-American in Steele’s magazine. Mitchell finished fourth in the country in tackles (140) last year, and he produced 14 TFL’s, five fumble recoveries, 4.5 sacks, three PBU, two forced fumbles, one interception and one scoop-and-score fumble recovery for a TD. In three seasons at UConn, he has 319 tackles, 24 TFL’s, 6.5 sacks, six fumble recoveries, six PBU, five forced fumbles and two interceptions.
-Mora has another elite player in DE Eric Watts, who ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has at #5 in his rankings of defensive ends for the 2024 NFL Draft. Watts had 49 tackles, 10 TFL’s, nine QB hurries, seven sacks and two forced fumbles in 2022.
-UConn RB Victor Rosa is back after leading the Huskies in rushing yards (636) and rushing TDs (11). He averaged 4.5 YPC. Devontae Houston also returns. He ran for 578 yards and three TDs, averaging 6.9 YPC.
-UConn’s new starting QB is Joe Fagano, who has started 25 games in the last four years for Maine at the FCS level. Fagano has completed 60.0 percent of his passes for 5,655 yards with a 46/12 career TD-INT ratio.
-When these schools met in Raleigh last year, NC St. won a 41-10 decision as a 38.5-point ‘chalk.’ Mitchell had nine tackles and 0.5 TFL’s.
-The CBS Sports Network will have the broadcast from Pratt & Whitney Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
**Minnesota at Nebraska**
-As of Tuesday, most books had Minnesota installed as a seven-point favorite with the total in the 42.5 to 43.5 range. The Cornhuskers were +240 on the money line. For first-half wagers, the Gophers were favored by 3.5 points with a total of 23.5. Nebraska was +170 on the money line in the first half at DraftKings. Those numbers remained the same as of early Wednesday morning.
-Minnesota has won four straight games in this rivalry, going 3-1 ATS. The ‘under’ has cashed in three of the last four head-to-head meetings between these Big Ten West rivals. The Gophers won a 20-13 decision last year as a 14.5-point road ‘chalk,’ with the 33 combined points dropping ‘under’ the 44-point tally. Nebraska led 10-0 at halftime, but Minnesota scored 20 unanswered points and won by exactly seven points for the third straight time in this series. QB Athan Kaliakmanis completed 6-of-12 throws for 137 yards. He also had 27 rushing yards on three attempts. WR Daniel Jackson had five catches for 88 yards.
-Minnesota finished 2022 with a 9-4 SU record and a 7-6 ATS mark. The Gophers won five of their last six contests, including a non-covering 28-20 win over Syracuse as a 10.5-point favorite at the Pinstripe Bowl. The Orange dominated the stats with a 27-14 advantage in first downs and a 477-215 advantage in total yards. However, PJ Fleck’s squad got a 70-yard interception return for a TD from true freshman safety Coleman Bryson, who staked the Gophers to a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter. After Syracuse cut the deficit to 21-13 with a field goal, Minnesota’s Quentin Redding returned the ensuing kick for 72 yards to set up a 25-yard TD pass from Tanner Morgan to Jackson. Morgan replaced Kaliakmanis, who completed 7-of-9 passes for 80 yards before leaving the game with a leg injury in the second quarter. Morgan closed his career by throwing two TD passes to Jackson without an interception.
-As a redshirt freshman in 2022, Kaliakmanis started five times in 11 appearances. He completed 60-of-111 passes (54.1%) for 946 yards with a 3/4 TD-INT ratio. Kaliakmanis had 140 rushing yards, one TD and a 4.1 YPC average.
-Jackson, who finished the bowl game with four receptions for 73 yards and two TDs, is back this season as a fourth-year junior after catching 37 balls for a team-best 557 receiving yards and five TDs in 2022. He has 22 career starts to his credit. TE Brevyn Spann-Ford had 42 catches for 497 yards and two TDs last season. Along with Spann-Ford, WR Chris Autman-Bell returns as a sixth-year senior. Autman-Bell was lost to a season-ending injury in Week 3 of 2022. In those three contests, he had 11 receptions for 214 yards and one TD. Autman-Bell has started 49 games in five seasons at Minnesota, producing 125 catches for 1,970 yards and 13 TDs.
-Minnesota finished 2022 +1,236 in net yardage and +5 in turnover margin. The offense returns seven starters from a unit that scored at a 28.2 PPG clip. The Gophers have six starters back from a defense that allowed an average of 13.8 PPG. They held eight opponents to 13 points or fewer, going 7-1 in those games.
-According to the 247Sports Composite, Fleck and his staff brought in the nation’s #53 overall recruiting class and the #40 transfer-specific class. Minnesota signed 11 transfers, but only one has a four-star designation. That’s former Charlotte WR Elijah Spencer, who had 57 receptions for 943 yards and nine TDs for the 49ers last year.
-Steele’s National Unit Rankings have Minnesota at #28 at RB, #29 at WR, #64 on the 0-line and #30 in the secondary.
-Minnesota’s defense is led by senior safety Tyler Nubin, who was a second-team All-Big-Ten selection in 2022 when he produced 55 tackles, four interceptions, three PBU, two TFL’s and one forced fumble. Nubin has started 31 times in 36 games across four seasons, contributing 154 career tackles, eight interceptions, seven PBU, 4.5 TFL’s, two forced fumbles and one sack. He’s a preseason first-team All-Big-Ten pick in Steele’s magazine.
-Redding is a preseason second-team All-Big-Ten choice as a punt returner and a preseason fourth-team All-Big-Ten selection as a kick returner in Steele’s magazine. Spann-Ford is a preseason first-team All-Big-Ten pick, while Jackson is a second-team All-Big-Ten selection in Steele’s magazine. Other representatives for the Gophers in Steele’s magazine included OT Aireontae Ersery and OG Quinn Carroll, who were preseason second and fourth-team All-Big-Ten choices, respectively.
-Nebraska fired Scott Frost three weeks into his fifth season at the helm after a 45-42 home loss to Georgia Southern on a walk-off field goal as time expired. The Cornhuskers endured their sixth straight losing season, finishing 4-8 SU and 5-6-1 ATS.
-After an unsuccessful three-year tenure with the Carolina Panthers, Matt Rhule returned to college to take over this storied program. It was a spectacular hire by the Cornhuskers, who get a 48-year-old coach that has already rapidly rebuilt two programs at Temple and Baylor. Rhule took over the Owls in 2013. In Year 2, he guided Temple to a 6-6 record. In 2015, the Owls went 10-4 SU and 9-5 ATS, beating Penn St. 27-10 as six-point home underdogs in the season opener. Temple started 7-0 with five wins by double-digit margins, but it allowed a late fourth-quarter lead to get away in a 24-20 home loss to ninth-ranked Notre Dame as a 12-point underdog. The Owls added a 31-12 win over #21 ranked Memphis and finished the regular season 10-2, but they lost 24-13 at Houston in the AAC Championship Game. Rhule’s squad took a #24 national ranking into the Boca Raton Bowl, only to lose 32-17 to Toledo. Rhule helped the Owls to a 10-3 SU record and an incredible 12-1 ATS mark in 2016. They beat Navy 34-10 in the AAC Championship Game and were ranked #23 when Rhule was hired by Baylor on Dec. 6.
-Baylor went to six straight bowl games under Art Briles from 2010-15, including four seasons of 10 wins or more. But a sexual-assault investigation into more than a dozen players prompted the school to fire Briles in 2016. Rhule replaced him and was given a seven-year contract. After a 1-11 season in Year 1, the Bears went 7-6 in 2018 and beat Vanderbilt 45-38 at the Texas Bowl. Then in 2019, Rhule led Baylor to an 11-3 SU record and a 9-4 ATS mark. The Bears started the season 11-1, but they lost 30-23 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. After losing a 26-14 decision to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, Rhule left to take the Carolina gig.
-Nebraska returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense. The Cornhuskers scored at a 22.6 PPG clip last year, and their defense surrendered an average of 27.6 PPG. They finished the season -843 in net yardage and -3 in turnover margin. Nebraska went 2-5 in seven one-possession games.
-Nebraska lost 45 lettermen and brought back 37. Rhule’s first recruiting class ranked #31 overall and #28 in terms of transfer-specific imports. He signed 40 new players, including 12 transfers who are all from Power-Five programs. Three transfers have four-star designations from the 247 Sports Composite, and four incoming freshmen are four-star prospects. The prize of the incoming freshmen is WR Malachi Coleman, who was the #1 player in the state of Nebraska, the #11 WR in the country and the nation’s #63 overall prospect. Rhule also hit big with a pair of EDGE rushers in Princewill Umanmielen and Cameron Lenhardt.
-The top incoming transfers are TE Arik Gilbert (Georgia), EDGE MJ Sherman (Georgia) and QB Jeff Sims (Ga. Tech). However, Gilbert was awaiting word from the NCAA on his eligibility since he’s a non-graduate, two-time transfer. That was the latest on Gilbert as of Monday but on Tuesday morning, he was arrested on burglary charges in Lincoln. According to The Athletic’s Mitch Sherman, Gilbert was apprehended without incident around 2:00 a.m. at SJ’s Liquor and Vape Shop. He was carrying $1,672 worth of vape products, Delta 8, cigars and lighters, and a glass door was shattered by cement chunks. Therefore, we definitely won’t see Gilbert in uniform Thursday, and it seems unlikely that he’ll play any college football in 2023.
-In 24 games at UGA in three seasons, Sherman had 14 tackles, 1.5 TFL’s and 0.5 sacks. Sims started 23 times in 25 games for the Yellow Jackets starting in Week 1 as a true freshman in 2020. He’s completed 364-of-633 passes (57.5%) for 4,464 career yards with a 30/23 TD-INT ratio. Sims has 1,152 career rushing yards, 11 TDs and 4.2 YPC average.
-Although Virginia transfer WR Billy Kemp wasn’t issued a four-star designation from the 247Sports Composite, he’s the most accomplished collegiate player among the 12 transfers. Kemp has started 25 times in 43 career games at UVA from 2018-22, hauling in 192 career catches for 1,774 yards and eight TDs. He has 2,337 career all-purpose yards.
-Steele’s National Unit Rankings have Nebraska at #49 at QB, #40 at RB, #53 at WR, #63 on the o-line and #29 in the secondary.
-Nebraska RB Anthony Grant returns after producing a team-best 915 rushing yards and six TDs with a 4.2 YPC average. He also had 18 catches for 104 yards. WR Marcus Washington is back after hauling in 31 receptions for 471 yards and one TD.
-Five Nebraska players were recognized by Steele in his preseason All-Big-Ten selections, including OT Bryce Benhart (third-team), CB Quinton Newsome (third-team), RB Gabe Ervin (fourth-team), Kemp (fourth-team) and punter Brian Buschini (fourth-team). The 6-foot-9, 315-pound Benhart has started 29 games in the last three seasons, while Newsome recorded 44 tackles, 10 PBU, four TFL’s, two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one QB hurry in 2022. Ervin was limited to 94 rushing yards (4.7 YPC) due to multiple injuries last year, while Buschini averaged 44.0 yards per punt.
-Nebraska is 7-0-1 ATS with two outright wins in its last eight games as a road underdog. Furthermore, the Cornhuskers are 20-8-2 ATS in their last 30 games as road underdogs since 2013.
-Minnesota owns a 13-11 spread record in 24 games as a home favorite during Fleck’s tenure that’s entering its seventh season.
-Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern on FOX.
**Florida at Utah**
-As of Tuesday, most spots had Utah listed as a six or 6.5-point favorite with a total of 45 or 45.5. The Gators were +220 on the money line. For first-half wagers, the Utes were favored by 4.5 points with a total of 22.5, while UF was +195 at DraftKings to take the lead into halftime.
-However, on Wednesday morning, there had once again been significant movement with these numbers. Caesars, Circa and the Westgate SuperBook had adjusted the Utes down to -4. Most other spots had Utah at -4.5 and the South Point was at -5. The total was down to 43.5 at Caesars and 44 at Circa, but other books were at 44.5. The Gators were down into the +160 to +175 neighborhood. These line moves are based on the uncertainty of Utah star QB Cam Rising and TE Brant Kuithe (more on that below).
–UPDATE: ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Wednesday afternoon that Kuithe is ‘out’ and Rising is ‘doubtful.’
-Make me look silly, Billy! That’s the mantra for this UF alum going into Napier’s second season as “captain of this Big Ol’ Battleship we call Gator Football.” That’s what Steve Spurrier called the job as HC of the Florida Gators at his farewell presser that concluded a dynastic 12-year tenure back in January of 2002. I’ve been going to The Swamp since 1981 and I’ve never had lower expectations for this program in my lifetime. UF has its lowest win total ever (5.5) at most books. I chronicled what a nightmare offseason it was for the Gators, and how I think the decision to go with Mertz over other readily available QBs was a monumental mistake in this article from June. But by all means, I’d love for Billy to make me look silly.
-UF has finished 6-7 SU in back-to-back campaigns. The Gators were +170 in net yardage and +8 in turnover margin last season, but they lost three one-possession games.
-UF has been absolutely atrocious on defense for three straight seasons. In 2020, the Gators gave up an average of 30.8 PPG, leading to three losses by 12 combined points in the regular season for a squad that won eight games by margins of 12 points or more. In 2021 and ’22, UF gave up an average of 26.8 and 28.8 PPG, respectively.
-Florida dropped those three one-possession games last year despite scoring 33 points at Tennessee (in a 38-33 setback), 35 points at home vs. LSU (in a 42-35 defeat) and 38 at FSU (in a 45-38 loss).
-Florida center Kingsley Eguakun, DT Chris McClellan and backup QB Jack Miller are listed as ‘questionable.’ Eguakun, who has started 26 games in a row for the Gators, and McClellan are dealing with lower-body injuries. DE Justus Boone tore his ACL in training camp and will miss the entire 2023 season. He had 24 tackles, one sack and one QB hurry last season. Cam Carroll, a sixth-year senior RB who transferred to UF from Tulane, also went down in mid-August with a season-ending injury. TE Keon Zipperer is also out indefinitely and not expected to play this year.
UPDATE on Thursday at 5:15 p.m. Eastern on 8/31/23: UF’s Eguakun is ‘out’ tonight and Jake Slaughter will start at center in his absence.
-Florida went 3-0 ATS as a road underdog last season. UF posted a 5-1 ATS record with two outright wins in six games as an underdog. Napier owns a 17-5-1 ATS record with 10 outright victories in 23 games when listed as a ‘dog in his HC career.
-Steele’s National Unit Rankings have UF at #16 at RB, #18 at WR, #42 on the o-line, #55 on the d-line, #56 at LB, #39 in the secondary and #17 on special teams.
-RBs Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne give the Gators an elite 1-2 punch. Johnson ran for a team-high 841 yards and 10 TDs in 2022, averaging 5.4 YPC. As a true freshman, Etienne had 719 rushing yards, six TDs and a 6.1 YPC average.
-Florida WR Ricky Pearsall is back after hauling in 33 catches for 661 yards and five TDs. Pearsall also had 113 rushing yards and one TD on merely six attempts (14.1 YPC). He’s expected to handle punt-return duties this year.
-According to the 247Sports Composite, Napier brought in the nation’s #12 overall recruiting class and the #16 group of transfer-specific imports. Seventeen of 26 incoming freshmen were enrolled early for spring practice. Five of UF’s 11 transfers had four-star ratings, including safety RJ Monten (Michigan), OG Micah Mazzccua (Baylor), DT Cam Jackson (Memphis), QB Graham Mertz (Wisconsin) and DT Caleb Banks (Louisville).
-Utah has won 14 consecutive home games and is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 home contests. The Utes went 5-1 ATS as home favorites in 2022.
-Kyle Whittingham’s squad has won the Pac-12 and finished 10-4 in back-to-back seasons. Utah has also lost the Rose Bowl in consecutive years, falling 35-21 to Penn St. last season and 48-45 in an epic slugfest against Ohio St. two years ago.
-Rising left last year’s Rose Bowl with a torn ACL. Although Whittingham had Rising listed as the starter when he released a depth chart this past Friday, he had not been completely cleared for full-contact activity yet. Whittingham told reporters last week that he might not know if Rising is going to play Thursday until 10 minutes before kickoff.
-Rising completed 64.7 percent of his passes last year for 3,034 yards with a 26/8 TD-INT ratio. He had 465 rushing yards, six TDs and a 6.0 YPC average. With backup Brandon Rose also injured, Whittingham has said that Bryson Barnes will start at QB if Rising isn’t cleared. Barnes completed 37-of-57 throws (64.9%) for 430 yards with a 4/2 TD-INT ratio. He also had 116 rushing yards with a 5.8 YPC average.
-On Monday, Whittingham told reporters that athletic redshirt freshman QB Nate Johnson will play vs. UF. “You’ll see Nate Johnson in this game, no matter what happens,” Whittingham said. “You’ll see Nate Johnson in this game.
“Nate is, obviously, a tremendous athlete; we’ve talked about his speed and what he brings to the table about running the football, whereas Bryson is more in the pocket and would rather operate from there. And then Cam has both. If Cam’s available, he’s a guy that can make the yards and extend when he needs to with his legs and throw the ball exceptionally well.”
-Like Rising, another star on Utah’s offense is ‘questionable.’ Although TE Brant Kuithe was also listed as a starter on the depth chart last Friday, he had not been cleared for full-contact activity yet, either. Kuithe wnet down with a season-ending injury in late September last year. In four games, he had 19 receptions for 206 yards and three TDs. Kuithe has started 26 times in 51 games for the Utes, hauling in 148 career catches for 1,882 yards and 16 TDs. He also has 162 career rushing yards, four TDs and a 9.5 YPC average.
-Utah lost star TE Dalton Kincaid to the NFL, but the Utes do have WR Devaughn Vele back in the mix. Vele had 55 receptions for 695 yards and five TDs. Junior WR Money Parks also returns after catching 26 balls for 414 yards and two TDs.
-Steele’s National Unit Rankings have Utah at #13 at QB, #14 at RB, #5 on the o-line, 56 at WR, #10 on the d-line, #15 at LB, #21 in the secondary and #48 on special teams.
-The Utes’ RB room was four-deep last year, so there will be no downgrade for this group even though it lost Tavion Thomas, who ran for a team-high 687 yards and seven TDs. Micah Bernard, Ja’Quinden Jackson and Jaylon Glover are back. Bernard had 533 rushing yards, four TDs and a 5.0 YPC average in 2022, while Jackson had 531 rushing yards, nine TDs and a stellar 6.8 YPC average. Glover ran for 360 yards and four TDs with a 4.6 YPC average. Bernard added 34 catches for 314 yards and one TD.
-According to the 247Sports Composite, Utah has the country’s #23 overall recruiting class and the #44 class for transfers. Seven incoming freshmen, one juco transfer and three FBS transfers are four-star players. Former Ole Miss CB Miles Battle, EDGE rusher Logan Fano (BYU) and LB Levani Damuni (Stanford) are the four-star transfers.
-Utah’s 2022 defense limited opponents to an average of 21.4 PPG. Safety Cole Bishop garnered third-team All-Pac-12 honors, recording a team-best 83 tackles to go with six TFL’s, three PBU, two QB hurries, 1.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and one interception. Bishop, DT Junior Tafuna, OT Sataoa Laumea and OG Keaton Bills are preseason first-team All-Pac-12 selections in Steele’s magazine. Tafuna started all 14 games last season, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors by producing 27 tackles, 3.5 TFL’s, two QB hurries, one PBU, one interception and one sack.
-When these teams met at The Swamp in Gainesville in last year’s season opener, Florida won 29-26 thanks to an Amari Burney interception in the end zone with 17 seconds remaining. The Gators won as 2.5-point home underdogs, with the 55 combined points going ‘over’ 51.5 points when Anthony Richardson scored on a two-yard TD run with 1:25 left. Rising connected on 22-of-32 passes for 216 yards with one TD and one interception. He had 91 rushing yards on just seven attempts. Kuithe had nine catches for 105 yards and one TD. Johnson had 75 rushing yards and one TD for the Gators in his UF debut after transferring from Louisiana. Etienne had 64 rushing yards on only five carries, while Pearsall had four catches for 67 yards.
-Utah has a season win total of 8.5 shaded to the ‘under’ at a -128 price. The Utes have +500 odds to win the Pac-12 Championship for a third straight year.
-ESPN will have the telecast at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.