The most fluid spread right now in a Week 1 college football is Florida at No. 14 Utah on Thursday, Aug. 31, in a rematch of an opener from last year in Gainesville won in an upset by the #GoGators. They were as high as 9.5-point underdogs for this matchup but are all the way down to -6.5 at many books and it may keep going until the status of Utah starting QB Cameron Rising is clear.
In its final season, the Pac-12 is really strong at the top in returning quarterbacks and Rising is on a par with any other than perhaps reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. Note, though, that Rising outdueled Williams and the Trojans twice last year.
Rising threw for 415 yards, ran for three touchdowns and scampered up the middle for a go-ahead two-point conversion with 48 seconds left in the 43-42 victory over USC in the regular season in one of the games of the year. In the Pac-12 title game rematch, Rising had three more TD throws in the 47-24 victory that sent the #GoUtes to the Rose Bowl and knocked USC from a spot in the College Football Playoff.
In the Rose Bowl, Rising tore his ACL in the third quarter, and that’s where we are today. Coach Kyle Whittingham is not certain Rising will be able to go against the Gators. Rising is not some pocket passer who might be able to protect that knee if not 100%. He threw for 3,034 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight picks in 2022 and rushed 77 times for 465 yards and six touchdowns.
The former Texas transfer has an 18-7 record as a starter with Utah, won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, earned back-to-back All-Pac-12 honors and is 5-1 against ranked teams in the regular season (not that UF is ranked).
Could Whittingham simply be playing mind games with his opponent? Perhaps, but another reason this spread is plummeting is because projected backup Brandon Rose, a freshman, apparently suffered a severe injury during a recent scrimmage that required a trip to the hospital. Reporters only learned that through a social media post.
Whittingham has declined to talk about whether Rose has even been present at practice since the incident. Thus, Bryson Barnes could be the one to face Florida. The former walk-on from Milford, Utah, did start at Washington State last year when Rising was out and led a 21-17 win. Overall, Barnes saw action in 10 games (including the Rose Bowl) and completed 37 of 57 for 439 yards, four TDs and two picks while rushing 20 times for 116 yards.
“Bryson Barnes is taking the majority of reps with the ones,” Whittingham said this week. “When Cam is at practice, which is, not every day, but most everyday- he gets a fair share of the ones in certain drills as well. Right now, if we had to play today, it would be Bryson Barnes.”
In the 2022 opener against Florida, Utah led 26-22 with under two minutes left but lost 29-26 on a late TD run by new Indianapolis Colts QB Anthony Richardson. Rising threw for 216 yards and a TD and rushed for 91 yards.
Because Richardson is in the NFL, the Gators will have a new QB as well and that will be Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz. Utah is 13-1 in the Whittingham era when starting a season on a weekday. The Utes have gone unbeaten at home in back-to-back seasons.