College Football Week 1: Utah looking to be declared the favorite against Florida at The Swamp

None of this is exactly new to Utah. It has been more than 13 years since the Utes beat then-No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Utah has played in three of the last four Pac-12 championship games, finally clinching its first Pac-12 title last season.

In what could be the biggest game of Week 1, No. 7 Utah travels to Florida as an accidental national powerhouse. Underappreciated at a disrespected conference, the Utes are no longer a curiosity. His coach, Kyle Whittingham, has developed a legitimate playoff contender in her 18th season at the helm of the program.

Utah has its quarterback, inspiring transfer from Texas Cameron Rising, an intimidating front seven on defense and the respect of CBS Sports. Our experts focused on the Utes when making their preseason college football playoff picks.

And we are not alone. Utah enters The Swamp on Saturday as a 3-point favorite.

“I think we are still fighting for [recognition] in a way,” said Whittingham, who tied with Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy as the second-longest tenured FBS coach. “We are a program that is still working on a brand, trying to have more of a national presence. But you have to earn that. The way you do it is, every time you get an opportunity on national television, you have to work your way up in that regard.”

The next step is to be the first Pac-12 team to advance to the CFP in the last six years. A big reason the league lost USC and UCLA, and finds itself vulnerable to more exits, is because it hasn’t accomplished much on the field lately.

Beating Florida is important, but the next step after that is surviving whatever the Pac-12 turns into. In other words, become that legal national power

Utah is playing an SEC opponent for the eighth time in its history, the first time since Alabama’s victory. Win and you open a path to top four consideration. USC is at home in what is shaping up to be a do-or-die game on Oct. 15. Aside from a trip to Oregon on Nov. 19, Utah’s only road games are at Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State and Colorado.

Only six active FBS trainers have more wins than Whittingham’s 144. Florida’s Billy Napier is 40 in Louisiana, but he will make his Gators debut on Saturday night.

Win or lose, let’s just say Utah has options once USC and UCLA leave the Pac-12. It’s perhaps the best program in the league right now. (Certainly it is the most powerful). You don’t have to be an expert to be familiar with the physical aspect of Utah.

“We’ll make you feel us when we’re on the field,” Rising said. “We’re going to run the ball down your throat. We’re going to throw it over the top. The defense is going to come in with some animosity.”

College football needs a Cinderella. An extended playoff will surely provide it. So far, Cincinnati is the closest thing to it after going 12-0 last season before being dispatched by Alabama in the CFP. If Utah makes it to the Football Four this season, it would be the third rookie in the group in the last two years (Michigan and Cincinnati the others).

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That’s why the Pac-12 banter and jabs can be stopped (or at least muffled) in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday night.

“When you get the chance to go to SEC country, play a storied program like Florida with its history in a place like The Swamp, that’s a challenge for our guys,” Whittingham said. “It’s important for the Pac-12 to make noise on the national stage whenever we get opportunities like that.”

Ohio State-Notre Dame: Even if Jim Knowles hadn’t been hired for fix defense, the No. 2 Buckeyes could beat everyone on their way to a playoff spot. But that defense is fixed and the game between two super brands should not be very similar on the field. Not in Marcus Freeman’s second game as coach of the No. 5 Fighting Irish, who are opening the season as 17.5-point underdogs at The Shoe.

Duck! If Alabama didn’t exist, we’d be talking about No. 3 Georgia being back-to-back. The defense will be top 10, instead of generational. But the tight wing room is the best in the country. You know Kirby Smart will run the ball, and Stetson Bennett is an established starter at quarterback, a rarity in his own conference. This is another case of a first-time trainer getting into the guts of the beast. It’s probably a good idea that new Oregon coach Dan Lanning, a former Georgia superstar defensive coordinator, hasn’t identified his starting quarterback. “I know who the quarterback is going to be,” Smart said. Count on the transfer of Bo Nix, a three-year starter at Auburn, getting the nod for the No. 11 Ducks. In three starts, all losses, against the Bulldogs, Nix has held below his career average in completion percentage, passing yards and rushing yards.

Too many Wolverines: Jim Harbaugh objected to the old saying: If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one. Going into the season opener against Colorado State, the Michigan coach has at least found a way to keep his quarterback quarter intact in this era of If I don’t start, I’m leaving. He will alternate starters in at least the first two games between current Cade McNamara and sophomore JJ McCarthy. McNamara will start against the Rams. McCarthy will start next week against Hawaii. A permanent starter will be named for Week 3 when No. 8 Michigan takes on Northern Illinois. McNamara, who led the Wolverines to a Big Ten title and a playoff berth last year, has been named captain. If McCarthy, a sophomore with more potential, doesn’t get the permanent job, Harbaugh’s next trick will be to keep him out of the transfer portal.

JRP sighting: We could write a book on careers resurrected through the transfer portal, but UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee’s story is unique. Gumby would be jealous of how flexible and versatile this guy can be. In 2019, Plumlee set the Ole Miss freshman rushing record (1,023 yards). Last year, he had his first 100-yard receiving game. Pairing Plumlee with Gus Malzahn looks promising after Dillon Gabriel’s departure to Oklahoma (once Caleb Williams left for USC). It’s a long way, or maybe not, from freshman All-American to wide receiver Matt Corral to AAC quarterback. The Knights open with South Carolina State.

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Advantages of the portal: Clay Helton may not have been USC’s man. However, he is one of the biggest collectors of quarterback talent in school history. Three guys he recruited will start at the Power Five conferences this weekend. Former Pac-12 freshman of the year Kedon Slovis replaces Kenny Pickett in Pittsburgh, former five-star JT Daniels is in his third school at West Virginia, and 1,300-yard passer Jaxson Dart replaces Ole Miss. .

Greene retrospective: Bryan Harsin was going to have a hard time keeping his job with or without the athletic director who hired him, Allen Greene. But Greene is gone and Auburn begins the season with a tune-up against Mercer. A set-up for what, exactly? Auburn is playing, at least to some extent, the toughest schedule in the country. Nix is ​​gone, for better or worse. By signing Harsin, Greene went over the heads of Auburn influencers who wanted former Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. If Scott Frost has the hottest seat entering the season, Harsin is 1B. Happy roads, AG, to a class act.

Best chance for a Week 1 surprise: Central Michigan over the state of Oklahoma in Stillwater. The Chippewas have the Leading runner of 2021 Lew Nichols III He is coming off a season in which they won nine games for the first time since 2009. The Cowboys are 12-0 against Group of Five teams since losing to Central Michigan in 2016.

Quick kicks: Example 1,267 of what the realignment has done to rivalries: The Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pittsburgh is renewed for the first time since 2011. The Mountaineers haven’t been the same since Rich Rodriguez led his team to the brink of a spot in the BCS only to be beaten by the Panthers 13-9 in 2007. Rich Rod accepted, then turned down, the job at Alabama. West Virginia has qualified at the end of the season only six times since … Texas (hosting ULM) is coming off its longest losing streak (six games) in 65 years with one of those losses coming at the hands of Kansas. The question it had to be publishing a depth chart … There are 15 true road favorites in Week 1 in games involving only FBS teams … No. 1 Alabama (hosting Utah State) has won Nick Saban’s opening 15 games by double digits … Brian Kelly LSU also didn’t announce its starting quarterback before Sunday’s opener against Florida State in New Orleans. A slight nod should go to Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels, a senior whose passer rating dropped in his three years in the desert.

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