What is August‘s best game of the 2023-24 college football season?

Sep 3, 2022; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) scores a touchdown against the Utah Utes during the second half at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2022; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) scores a touchdown against the Utah Utes during the second half at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2023-24 college football season will begin next month and, luckily for us, its lengthy list of big-name matchups has it set to come out swinging.

With it already being mid-July, we are mere weeks away from college football’s grand return—but just how grand will it be?

No offense to the “Week 0” participants out there, but most college football fans think of their beloved sport finding its true rhythm in September, as most August games fail to hold any nationally relevant implications. However, the truth behind that statement doesn’t necessarily equate to the month being ignorable in its entirety.

In fact, this year’s installment of August college football was lucky enough to land several games that should be at least somewhat entertaining. Such games include Navy vs Notre Dame (a historical rivalry decided by three points last season, also being played in Ireland), UTEP at Jacksonville State (a beatable opponent for the latter’s debut at the FBS level), and Nebraska at Minnesota (new head coach Matt Rhule leading the Huskers against a 9-win divisional foe).

There is one more that deserves to be added to that list though, a matchup that possesses the same competitive element while outweighing all the others in sheer magnitude. As a result, it is my pick for the best game that August has to offer: Florida at Utah.

What makes Florida/Utah so special?

The face-off between the Gators and Utes will help get Week 1 started with a bang on Thursday, August 31, meaning it just barely qualifies for this discussion. But beyond that, anyone who remembers the hype that surrounded this pair’s 2022 encounter and/or how it went down should not be even remotely surprised by this reveal.

Going into the affair, it was more than just a meeting between two big brands; it was a showdown between one of the Pac-12’s best and one of the SEC’s worst, expected to give substance to the contrasting images that the conferences hold. With that said, many failed to predict just how fierce it would ultimately be.

In a battle that was headlined by unbelievable plays and a close score, Utah had officially been stunned by the mediocre Florida following a Cameron Rising interception thrown in the end zone with not even 30 seconds to go.

Due to the game taking place in Gainesville and the Utes being a top-10 squad at the time, the euphoric atmosphere quickly reminded us all of what makes college football so mesmerizing. It’s that same magic that I hope the approaching rematch can capture—yet I doubt it will.

It hurts to say, but the circumstances surrounding this year’s encounter are all the more lopsided in favor of one team (Utah). This is thanks to two things in particular: where the game will be taking place and Florida’s quarterback situation, both of which were pivotal in helping the Gators last year.

How do those factors help Utah?

Large enough to host the better part of 90,000 people, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is not exactly known for providing its visitors with a warm welcome, and the Utes felt every ounce of its hostility in 2022. This time around will be a different story though, as the Gators will now be the ones in the aggressive territory.

While Rice-Eccles Stadium’s capacity can’t come close to that of “The Swamp,” it is home to a student section that sits in a league of its own when it comes to passion and impact.

As for Florida’s concerns at QB, its offense against Utah relied almost solely on the explosive feet of Anthony Richardson, as he ran for over 100 yards and three of their four touchdowns. With him off to the NFL, the Gators have an offensive identity that is frighteningly uncertain, and the Utes defense is the last that any should hope to face when dealing with such an issue.

There is, however, one glimmer of hope that I’d like to give Florida fans: The Gators weren’t supposed to win last year, either. But, in spite of Utah’s ranking, superior coaching, and infamous physicality, they still managed to hit the Utes in a way that they simply could not defend. Beyond being an unfamiliar opponent, something that I believe played a huge role in that was the talent advantage that UF held.

Florida has had a convincing edge over Utah in the recruiting game for years, and it’ll be interesting to see if the latter can adapt to that any better now that it has a clearer idea of what to expect. But if it can’t, then the Gators could very well have themselves another Week-1 shocker in store.

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Is Florida/Utah going to be the clash of the year? No. Is its honor of being called the best college football game in August partly due to the month having limited options to choose from? Absolutely. But nonetheless, it’s a high-profile matchup that’s worth watching—and if it’s half as good as it was last year, it’ll also be one worth remembering.