NCAA Football: Utah at Florida

Florida is gunning for its second consecutive victory over No. 14 Utah on Thursday as the two clash in Salt Lake City, Utah. This season-opening showdown is one of the marquee games of the five-day extravaganza known as college football's opening weekend. That means it's time to buckle up those chin straps and get ready for the 2023 season in style.

This is a huge test for the Gators, who are looking to shake off a rocky 2022 campaign in coach Billy Napier's first season at the helm. Quarterback Anthony Richardson is gone and in steps Graham Mertz, who transferred over from Wisconsin to take the snaps in an offense that desperately needs a boost. 

The Utes are squarely in the mix of the national title race based on the preseason rankings and have back-to-back Pac-12 titles under their belts to prove their worth on the national scene. Coach Kyle Whittingham has established the identity of the program as a hard-nosed juggernaut that will punish the opposition at the line of scrimmage. 

Let's break down one of the more anticipate matchups on the Week 1 slate and make picks straight up and against the spread.

Follow along LIVE as Florida takes on Utah on Thursday

How to watch Florida vs. Utah live

Date: Thursday, Aug. 31 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium -- Salt Lake City
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fubo (Try for free)

Florida vs. Utah: Need to know

Rising's health: The status of Utes star quarterback Cam Rising is up in the air as he has been recovering from a knee injury suffered January in the Rose Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior threw for 3,034 yards and 26 touchdowns last year and added 465 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He said that he's "feeling pretty damn good right now" this week (via: 247Sports), so it seems like it's trending in a positive direction. If Rising can't go, walk-on Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson are the two candidates to get the starting nod. Whittingham did say on Monday that Johnson will play "no matter what," which means that there will be an element of speed in the backfield that surpasses any that Utah has had in the past. 

Can Mertz be a star? If this is going to evolve into a quarterback shootout, it'll be interesting to see if Mertz can keep up. The redshirt junior enjoyed his best season last year, but he only threw for 2,136 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 12 games. He arrived in Gainesville, Florida, with the hopes of giving a jump start to an offense that was wildly inconsistent despite the fact that Richardson was widely regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. His experience is something that Napier was impressed with during fall camp.

"I think the big thing I've been impressed with is just his ability to come in and learn the system, translate what he knows and apply that to our system," Napier said while announcing Mertz as the starting quarterback. "And then just, you know, relentless in approach. Probably's worked as hard as any player on our team. Probably as hard as a lot of players that I've been around, you know, in terms of the unseen hours, right? Those are what I'm talking about specifically, and the self-discipline, to have a system, a process, a routine, to work, to connect with players, ask very intelligent questions, and is anticipating problems."

Battle in the trenches: As is the case in most matchups, the battle in the trenches will be fascinating to watch, particularly when Florida is on offense. The Gators lost four of five starters from last year's squad, and this group will have to come together quickly in order to keep Mertz clean and open holes for the Gators' dynamic rushing attack. On the other side of the ball is a Utah defensive front that is experienced and versatile. The Utes led the Pac-12 in tackles for loss per game (6.43) and sacks per game (2.93) last season, and that's become a hallmark within the program. The winner of that battle will likely take home the win.

Florida vs. Utah prediction, picks

Odds via SportsLine consensus

It doesn't really matter whether Rising plays because the Utah defense will keep the Gators offense in check for a full four quarters. Yes, Florida's running back duo of Montrell Johnson Jr and Trevor Etienne are great, but the Utes defense will key on them and force Mertz to beat them with his arm. He isn't capable of doing that. The Utes offense will do enough to control it from the outset and pull away for a double-digit win in the fourth quarter. Prediction: Utah (-6.5)

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 1? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $2,500 in profit over the past seven-plus seasons -- and find out.