Billy Napier happy to have 'formidable opponent' Utah in 2022 Gators football opener

Kevin Brockway
Gainesville Sun

When Billy Napier studied the Florida football schedule before he took the head coaching job this past offseason, he knew he wouldn’t be easing into anything.

The Gators, who start fall practice on Aug. 3, will get an immediate test when they open the season on Saturday night Sept. 3 under the lights at The Swamp against Utah.

The Utes enter the 2022 season as a consensus preseason top 15 ranked team. Athlon Sports ranked Utah No. 8 in its preseason Top 25. Utah returns 17 starters, including standout quarterback Cameron Rising (2,493 yards, 20 TDs in 2021) from a team that went 10-4 and won the school’s first Pac 12 championship last season.

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Napier said at SEC Media Days he welcomes the challenge of taking on a high-caliber opponent in his UF debut.

“I really believe that having a formidable opponent in the opener is healthy for your team,” he said. “ As much as you want to think our team is not going to be affected by who they play or where they play, I do think we got a little bit of that human nature in it.”

More about Florida vs. Utah opener

Florida has won 31 of its last 32 season openers, dating back to 1990, but has faced just three Power Five conference opponents to open the season in that span. 

UF’s last season opener against a Power Five opponent came in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when the Gators beat Ole Miss 51-35. The other two Power Five season-opening matchups included a 24-20 win over Miami in a 2019 neutral site game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, and a 33-17 loss to Michigan in 2017 at the Advocare Classic in Arlington, Texas.

Napier himself is no stranger to pulling off early upsets to open in the season. In 2020, Napier’s unranked Louisiana team traveled to Ames, Iowa, and knocked off No. 23 Iowa State 31-14.

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While Napier is UF’s fourth full-time head coach since 2010, Utah has maintained consistency under head coach Kyle Wittingham, who has gone 144-70 since replacing former UF head coach Urban Meyer in 2004.

“Our staff and team has so much respect for Coach Wittingham and that Utah program and the consistency with which they perform,” Napier said. “They certainly had a heck of a team last year.”

Florida 2022 football schedule

Sept. 3: 7 P.M. vs. Utah, Gainesville (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

Sept. 10: 7 P.M. vs. Kentucky, Gainesville (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

Sept. 17: 7:30 P.M. vs. South Florida, Gainesville (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

Sept. 24: 3:30 p.m. vs. Tennessee, at Knoxville, Tenn.

Oct. 1: Noon, vs. Eastern Washington, Gainesville (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

Oct. 8: TBA, vs. Missouri, Gainesville (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

Oct. 15: TBA vs. LSU, Gainesville (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

Oct. 29: 3:30 P.M. vs. Georgia, at Jacksonville

Nov. 5: TBA vs. Texas A&M, at Bryan-College Station, Texas

Nov. 12: TBA  vs. South Carolina, Gainesville (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

Nov. 19: TBA vs. Vanderbilt at Nashville, Tenn.

Nov. 25: 7:30 P.M. vs. Florida State, at Tallahassee