Utah fans excited to host an SEC team for the first time ever in tonight’s game

Aug 31, 2023, 4:16 PM

utes game tailgater has a tent open...

Some fans were tailgating as early as 6 a.m. Thursday in anticipation of the big game. (Adam Small, KSL NewsRadio)

(Adam Small, KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — The countdown to college football in Utah is almost over as the University of Utah Utes get ready to take on the Florida Gators at Rice Eccles Stadium in Thursday night’s game. 

Several fans were out tailgating as early as 6 a.m. Thursday. This game marks the first time Rice Eccles Stadium has ever hosted an SEC team.

High hopes for Utes game one

Reports about Cam Rising’s health haven’t boded well for his appearance in Thursday’s game. Utah’s star quarterback tore his ACL in the Rose Bowl back in January and he has since been rehabbing.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel posted that Rising was not expected to play Thursday and that the Utes were expected to give Junior Bryson Barnes the start against the Gators.


Despite the reports, Utes fans have confidence that Barnes and freshman Nate Johnson can hold their own against Florida.

“Bryson has been getting the first-team reps, this is a game plan geared for him,” said tailgater Matt Allen. “Bryson is going to have to make some throws, he’s got the receivers to do it.”

“I think we’re going to be alright,” said Ute fan John Thieling. “[Florida] is a good, solid program … but I don’t think they’re going to be used to the altitude … and I think the heat, even though it’s a drier heat.”

Grilling gators … literally

As fans tailgated through Thursday morning, some took grilling lunch (and the opposing team) to the next level.

Shawn Nicholls said one night, he decided he was going to order an alligator to grill on game day.

“[We were] drinking one night, and I told my friends I was going to buy an alligator … [I] had it shipped here from Louisiana,” Nicholls said. “We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re going to try,” he said with a laugh.

When asked how much it cost to get it, Nicholls said with a big sigh, “300 bucks.” But, the good news is it got here in just two days.

Somehow, Nicholls’ group wasn’t the only ones grilling an alligator at the tailgate lot off Guardsman Way.

Another group comprised of Utes and Florida fans said they were grilling one too.

End of an era

This will likely be the final year of the Pac-12 Conference after failed media rights deals led most teams, including Utah, to jump ship earlier this year.

Utah will join teams like BYU, Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona State in the Big 12 Conference in 2024. USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon will join the Big Ten in 2024.

Fans like Thieling said they are disappointed the conference couldn’t stay together, but they are looking forward to one more chance for Utah to take home a Pac-12 title, ending an era on a three-peat.

“It would be a blast,” Allen said.

Related: Dickson: Utah-Florida football game does not cancel class

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Utah fans excited to host an SEC team for the first time ever in tonight’s game