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Why the Utah-Florida season opener is big for both schools — and both coaches

SHARE Why the Utah-Florida season opener is big for both schools — and both coaches
Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham is paid more than 75% of the head coaches in the Pac-12.

Utah Utes football head coach Kyle Whittingham watches a ball during the Coaches Legacy Golf Invitational at Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy on Monday, June 6, 2022. The Utes open fall camp Friday.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Kyle Whittingham is a well-known figure among college football coaches.

The Utah football head man is the Football Bowl Subdivision’s second-longest tenured head coach, and he’s established a program that’s a consistent contender in the Pac-12 Conference. 

What’s intriguing about Whittingham and his Utah program headed into the 2022 season, though, where Utah is the favorite to win the Pac-12 and seen as a darkhorse College Football Playoff contender?

Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde shared his answer, in his ranking of the 25 most intriguing college football coaches of the 2022 season.

Forde has Whittingham at No. 13 on his list.

“After 17 seasons of consistent and under-appreciated winning, can a coach rip the ceiling off his career at age 62? We might be about to find out,” Forde wrote about the longtime Utah coach. 

“The Utes may be the last great Playoff hope of the Pac-12, at least as both currently are configured — the CFP with four teams, and the conference with 12. After going to its first Rose Bowl in school history, Utah returns most of its key offensive pieces and Whittingham can always be counted on to build a defense. The schedule offers a Playoff-enhancing opportunity in Week 1 at Florida. Stay tuned.”

Speaking of Week 1, Utah will face the No. 14 coach on the list — Florida’s Billy Napier — in the Utes’ season opener on Sept. 3. 

“That Utah-Florida opener isn’t just big for Whittingham; it’s a fascinating first-impression game for Napier, too. Last Florida coach to lose his debut game at the school: Charley Pell, in 1979. No pressure, Billy,” Forde wrote.

What other Pac-12 coaches made Sports Illustrated’s most intriguing coaches list?

One of the top Pac-12 battles this season is expected to be between Utah and USC, whose first-year coach, Lincoln Riley, is No. 1 on Forde’s list.

Riley made the jump following years of success at Oklahoma to USC this offseason to take over the moribund program.

“Riley’s sudden and surprising move to Los Angeles set off an eruption of excitement among Trojans fans and a corresponding aftershock of anger in Norman, Okla., where they are not accustomed to being jilted,” Forde wrote. 

“When he brought star quarterback Caleb Williams and others with him, the vitriol spiked. Now all the offensive savant has to do is return USC to prominence, shore up West Coast recruiting and navigate a two-year path into the Big Ten. Big bucks. Big brain. Big challenge.”

Oregon’s Dan Lanning (No. 21) and Arizona State’s Herm Edwards (No. 25) round out the other Pac-12 coaches on the list.

Are there any BYU ties on Sports Illustrated’s most intriguing coaches list?

While BYU’s Kalani Sitake did not make the top 25 intriguing list – he was one of more than a dozen coaches who “just missed the list” — there are a couple Cougars connections.

BYU will face the No. 5 coach, Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman, in mid-October in a neutral site game in Las Vegas. Freeman inherits a top 10 program from Brian Kelly, who left to coach at LSU.

“Freeman is slaying on the recruiting trail, but here and now he’s working under the expectation that he will extend Notre Dame’s five-year streak of double-digit victories. That quest begins with a daunting trip to Freeman’s alma mater, Ohio State,” Forde wrote.

Also on the list is Texas’ Steve Sarkisian at No. 18. Sarkisian, the former BYU quarterback, is in his second season leading the Longhorns program.

“Sark’s 5–7 first season was worse than anything Tom Herman did in four years, which raises the stakes for Year 2,” Forde wrote.

“… Regardless of what happens this season, Sark’s recruiting (hello, Arch Manning) should guarantee him a third season in 2023. But he needs to start building some momentum toward Texas’s future in the SEC, or someone else will be in charge by then.”