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Nice to see some honest-to-goodness, clench-your-teeth-and-give-it-your-all football. . .

In two entertaining Thursday night football games, the collegians filled our gridiron cup in a way that three weeks of pre-season NFL controlled scrimmages could not.

UTES ORIENTED: Utah looked very sound and very solid in dominating Florida 24-11, especially considering that Cam Rising, who’s easing back from an ACL injury, didn’t play. Backup Bryson Barnes threw a 70-yard TD on the Utes’ first play to Money Parks. That’s right. Money Parks! Put that on a T shirt. Ka-ching!

MERTZ ALERT: When Graham Mertz transferred out of Wisconsin rather than try to keep the quarterback job under new coach Luke Fickell, he landed on his feet at Florida, a program with a fine quarterback tradition.

In his debut at Utah, he was sacked five times, though—hardly landing on his feet. Mertz completed 31 of 44 for 333 yards for one touchdown and one interception as the Gators fell behind early and never really put much pressure on Utah.

Between a porous offensive line and clumsy receivers—the interception was tipped to a Utah defender after Mertz put the ball right on his receiver’s hands—Mertz was not going to have a fun night.

On the plus side, Florida coach Billy Napier had him moving around well, slipping out of the pocket to make throws and tucking the ball and running. And he made some good throws against a good defense.

Based on that trip to Utah, Mertz and Florida are going to experience plenty of disappointment in the rugged Southeastern Conference this fall.

But here’s the thing: For all the angst and disappointment Mertz has undergone in his college career, don't be surprised if he becomes a decent backup QB in the NFL. He’s smart. He has a good arm. And he’s been through so much. Nothing’s going to bother him.

GO WEST: Florida would have been wise to play a tuneup game before going on the road against a top-25 opponent like Utah. But all credit to the Gators for taking on a tough road trip—the kind of trip that SEC teams really risk taking.

SHOPPING? Now that the Atlantic Coast Conference seems poised to add SMU, Stanford and Cal, can the SEC stand pat? College football is all about television markets. And with no teams in west of Texas grazing land and Oklahoma oil derricks, the SEC is leaving the Mountain and Pacific time zones uncovered.

And if the ACC changes its name to something more geographically correct, here’s a suggestion: The A&P.

CARDINAL RUHLE: The result may look the same. Actually, it looks exactly the same. But Nebraska’s frustrating 13-10 loss also showed promise that new coach Matt Ruhle will turn around the Cornhuskers’ sagging fortunes.

The bad news. There were mistakes galore. Jeff Sims, the 6-4, 220-pound transfer quarterback from Georgia Tech, is a dual-threat bruiser. He needs to make better decisions, as evidenced by three interceptions. Maybe Ruhle and his staff will help Sims do that. Or maybe they’ll have to wait for their next quarterback.

Nebraska also lost a tough fumble in the fourth quarter that was essential to the Gophers’ impressive comeback in a 10-point fourth quarter.

Ruhle also made mistakes. Notably, instead of kicking a field goal at the end of the first half that would have tied the game 3-3, the Cornhuskers gambled and fiddled around—and got nothing. In a low-scoring game those three points were critical.

And by the way, Minnesota, which is doing a lot of retooling, looked very sharp, all things considered. The new QB, redshirt freshman Athan Kaliakmanis, showed good leadership and an ability to do what’s needed. Senior receiver Daniel Jackson, who made an acrobatic toe-dragging TD catch, figures to be an excellent target.

The good news for Nebraska: The Cornhuskers played tough and did a lot of things well. There’s every reason to think Ruhle, who turned around Temple and Baylor, will do the same for a program with the tradition and resources that Nebraska has.