NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Penn State at Utah

Utah starting quarterback Cameron Rising is doubtful for the Utes season opener against Florida, multiple outlets report. Rising tore his ACL in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, and though there have been some signs for an early return to action along the way, reports indicate he has not received a final all-clear as of yet.

The Gators' Thursday night trip to Salt Lake City is one of the biggest games on the Week 1 slate. These two non-conference foes will play a rematch of last year's 23-21 Florida win in the Swamp. Utah hoped that Rising would be full go and available to start, even listing him as the starter on the depth chart earlier in the week. 

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called Rising is a true game time decision earlier this week, and it could be as late as 10 minutes before kickoff when the staff makes a call. 

"If he's not ready then, we'll go with Plan B," Whittingham told reporters this week

Redshirt junior Bryson Barnes is expected to be the starter in Rising's place and speedy redshirt freshman Nate Johnson could be used in a "change of pace" role. 

Rising's potential absence likely played a big role in the odds movement around this game. Utah went from a 9.5-point favorite in the summer to a 6.5-point favorite heading into the week. As of Wednesday afternoon the Utes are are only favored by 4.5 points. 

Barnes has seen pressure

Barnes is no stranger to big moments. The former walk-on threw his first collegiate passes two years ago in the fourth quarter of a thrilling Rose Bowl showdown against Ohio State after Rising exited with an injury. Though the Utes lost 48-45, Barnes impressed by delivering a game-tying touchdown pass with 1:55 remaining.

Last season, he started in place of Rising for Utah's win at Washington State before playing in his second Rose Bowl after Rising tore his ACL in the third quarter of Utah's 35-21 loss to Penn State. For his career, Barnes is 39 of 59 passing for 453 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. 

While opportunities for reps have been light behind Rising, Barnes' experience has mostly come in meaningful snaps against quality opponents away from home. Most backup quarterbacks have only seen the field in low-stakes situations late in blowouts. 

More to think about

While the prospect of playing a key Week 1 game without a proven winner like Rising is undesirable, Utah has the element of surprise. Amid the ongoing uncertainty about Rising's status, the Utes have forced Florida to spend time preparing for several possibilities.

Johnson could be one of those options for Utah under center. The former three-star prospect appeared in four games last season, completing 4 of 5 passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns. There isn't much tape available for the Gators to study on Johnson, but his speed is no secret. He was a section champion in the 100-meter dash during his high school career in Clovis, California and would give Utah an explosive runner at quarterback.

Yet another possibility for Whittingman and the Utes is former four-star quarterback prospect Ja'Quinden Jackson. The former Texas Longhorn transferred to Utah before the 2021 season. He moved to running back last year and emerged as a star with nine rushing touchdowns.

Jackson is already in line to be a focal point of Utah's offense in 2023 as the marquee member of the backfield. Don't be surprised if the Utes cook up some packages that allow the versatile playmaker to showcase his arm.