With Cam Rising still out following his torn ACL in the Rose Bowl last season, walk-on quarterback Bryson Barnes is Utah’s starting quarterback for the opener vs. Florida Thursday night.

Barnes, who walked on to the team in 2020, is not on scholarship to begin this season, but the 1A MVP out of Milford, Utah — a town with 1,431 people as of the 2020 census — beat out four-star quarterback Nate Johnson for the backup spot and is called upon to start in Utah’s highest-profile home opener since Michigan back in 2015.

Raised on a pig farm, Barnes is one of college football’s most unlikely stories, having carved out a spot as the lead backup quarterback in each of the past three seasons.

Playing on both offense and defense for Milford High School, Barnes still holds the state record for career passing touchdowns (137), and ranks second in career passing yards (11,525).

He’s played on some of the biggest stages in college football, appearing in two Rose Bowls, and has one start under his belt, a win at Washington State in 2022.

This is this first-ever start with more than 30 minutes to prepare.

“It’s got to be the same thing you prepare for as a backup,” Barnes said. “... You go through the game plan, we got our plays we’re going to run, and you just got to trust in the offense, trust in the coaching staff and the positions they’re going to put you in against their defense.”

From pig farming to pigskins to Pasadena — Bryson Barnes looks back on his Rose Bowl moment

In his lone start against Washington State last year, Utah won 21-17 in Pullman. On short notice — Barnes didn’t take starting reps in practice before that game — he was 17 for 27 and threw for 175 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

Barnes’ first competitive action at Utah came in the 2022 Rose Bowl, where he threw a game-tying touchdown after taking over at QB with 4:14 left in the game.

Back in Rose Bowl Stadium again the next year, Rising went down with an ACL injury and Barnes was tasked with leading the Utes on the big stage.

In the 2023 Rose Bowl, Barnes took over in the third quarter after Rising’s injury, passing for 175 yards, a touchdown and an interception with a 53% completion rate in Utah’s loss to Penn State.

Johnson, a redshirt freshman, will have packages for him during the game Thursday.

“No matter what happens, you’ll see Nate Johnson in this game,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.