While the Texas Tech fans will have their attention fully turned to the Red Raiders’ opener against Wyoming on Saturday night at 6:30 pm Central on CBS, the excitement for a full slate of college football is also justified. Fortunately, the evening kickoff for the Red Raiders is going to allow most fans to take in a number of intriguing games prior to Tech’s game.
So let’s take a look at five games that should be worth a watch for Red Raider fans. We’ll begin by previewing a high-profile nationally-televised opener for a future Big 12 rival.
Florida @ No. 14 Utah will give Texas Tech fans a look at a future conference foe
For the first time since 1991, Florida will play a non-conference game outside of their home state when they take on Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday night. Last year, the two teams met in Gainesville with the Gators squeaking out a 29-26 win.
This year, the Utes were expected to hold serve at home until a key injury changed the outlook of this game. Utah’s starting QB, Cam Rising, is listed as doubtful for this game as he recovers from a torn knee ligament suffered in January’s Rose Bowl.
That gives Florida an advantage at the QB spot with the Gators starting Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz, a three-year starter for the Badgers. However, Mertz was nothing special in Madison as he completed fewer than 60% of his passes and has never passed for over 2,200 yards in a season.
Look for this game to fly by given the new NCAA clock rules and the fact that both teams will want to rely on the run game. With Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne in the backfield for the Gators, Mertz will be asked to be a bus driver just as he was at Wisconsin. That RB duo combined for over 1,500 yards and found the endzone 16 times last fall.
Utah will look for Ja’Quinden Jackson, a converted QB, to step up and be a lead dog for a backfield that is not exactly settled to open the year. Last season, he had 591 yards and 9 TDs on the ground and he impressed late in the season.
The defenses could tilt this game though. Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham has thrived by building one of the most rugged defensive cultures in the country and that is likely to continue this year as he returns a solid front seven.
Florida is in a much different position after a dreadful showing on that side of the ball in 2022. With new 29-year-old coordinator Austin Armstrong now leading the way, can a defense that gave up 30 points to six opponents last year rebound in just one offseason?
With Rising likely out, the Gators have a fighting chance to pull the upset tonight. However, Utah has a great home environment and in the end, their culture and toughness will likely be enough to carry the Utes to a win.
Florida @ Utah: Thursday, August 31, 7 PM Central, ESPN