The biggest question surrounding the Utah football program heading into its season opener against Florida has revolved around the availability of quarterback Cameron Rising.

One day before the game, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported that Rising is unlikely to play in Thursday’s contest at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“Cam Rising, the starting quarterback for Utah, is doubtful for the game tomorrow night and not expected to play,” Thamel said on “College Football Live,” per

“Sources told me last night that Bryson Barnes, the junior who had one start last year and (a) victory at Washington State and then came in for Rising in the Rose Bowl after he tore his ACL, will get the look as a starting quarterback for the Utes. We will also see some of Nate Johnson.”

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Rising tore his ACL in the Utes’ Rose Bowl loss to Penn State in January and has been rehabbing the knee this offseason, though his readiness for the start of the season has been in question.

Rising, the senior who has led Utah to back-to-back Pac-12 championships, was listed as the team’s starting quarterback when the program released its depth chart for the Florida game, with Barnes as backup and no mention of Johnson, who has been in competition for the backup position with Barnes.

On Monday, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham declined to give an update on either Rising or tight end Brant Kuithe, also coming off a torn ACL, and their availability for the season opener.

He did, however, say that Johnson would be involved in Thursday’s game.

“No matter what happens, you’ll see Nate Johnson in this game,” Whittingham said, as the Deseret News previously reported.

“Nate is obviously a tremendous athlete. We’ve talked about his speed and what he brings to the table running the football, whereas Bryson is more in the pocket and would rather operate from there,” Whittingham added.

Barnes has filled in for Rising in the past: He started in place of an injured Rising against Washington State last season and completed 17 of 27 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a Utah win.

Utes on the air

No. 14 Utah (0-0)
vs Florida (0-0)
Thursday, 6 p.m. MDT
Salt Lake City, Utah
Radio: ESPN 700

He also came in for Rising in Utah’s two Rose Bowl appearances the past two seasons, when Rising went down in each game.

During last year’s Rose Bowl, Barnes entered the contest in the third quarter and threw for 175 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the loss to Penn State.

Regarding why Barnes has emerged as the Utes’ top backup at quarterback, Whittingham told reporters on Aug. 15 that, “He was just making less mistakes. 

“He knows the offense better than the other two. He’s a little more consistent and more steady. The other two guys have bright futures, can make some spectacular plays here and there, but it’s all about taking care of the football and moving the chains.”

Utah will kick off the 2023 season against Florida at 6 p.m. MDT on Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Utah Utes backup quarterback Bryson Barnes throws the ball.
Utah Utes backup quarterback Bryson Barnes throws the ball against Penn State in the 109th Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News