There are plenty of games every year that are worth looking forward to in the college football season. Specifically, nonconference games can have a lot of hype to them. Here are the best nonconference games in college football in 2022.
10. Pittsburgh Panthers at West Virginia (Sep. 1)
Pittsburgh enters this season after winning 11 games last season. They have to replace quarterback Kenny Pickett and Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Jordan Addison, who transferred to USC. Slovis will have the full offensive line returning as he will try to bring the offense back to its third overall ranking last season. The defense has seven returning starters, including defensive linemen Calijah Kancey and Habakkuk Baldonado to help their 42nd-ranked defense from 2021. They’ll have a chance to win the ACC Coastal.
The Mountaineers went to a bowl game last season and are hoping to improve on that. Daniels is in to run the offense and should be a good fit in Neal Brown‘s system. Seven returning starters join Daniels, but their output will have to be much better than 2021. Five starters are back on defense and another bowl game should be within the Mountaineers’ sights.
Not only is this game bringing back a rivalry, but it is also a potentially good game. Pittsburgh is favored by 6.5 points as things currently sit.
9. Cincinnati Bearcats at Arkansas Razorbacks (Sep. 3)
Two teams who had very good seasons in 2021 are matching up early in the 2022 season.
Cincinnati has a lot to replace from their College Football Playoff team from last season. Two of the best players (based on recruiting rankings) the Bearcats have ever had will be in the backfield. Quarterback Evan Prater and LSU-transfer running back Corey Kiner could be dynamic. The offense may take a step back when these young players figure things out, and that may also be the case on defense too. Only four starters return and they will be led by their secondary. This game could be a test of how well Luke Fickell has recruited.
Arkansas won nine games in 2021 and there is room for improvement. Quarterback K.J. Jefferson will be back with five other starters on offense. His dual-threat abilities open up so many things offensively for the Razorbacks. The defense has some star power with linebacker Bumper Pool and safety Jalen Catalon, but will need other players to step up. Arkansas has the potential to get double-digit wins this season.
The Razorbacks are favored by 6.5 points right now, but this game could be even closer. It may have New Year’s Six Bowl Game implications.
8. BYU Cougars at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Oct. 8)
BYU and Notre Dame regularly schedule each other, as they are both independents. This year, both teams are projected to be good.
Last season, BYU found another star at quarterback in Jaren Hall. Hall led the Cougars to a 10-win season last year and has 14 other starters back with him. The offense should be solid, although a new running back needs to step up after Tyler Allgeier was drafted by the Falcons. The defense was average last season, but with so much talent returning, they can vastly improve. A New Year’s Six Bowl is on the table for BYU, but they have one of their toughest schedules in years.
Notre Dame made a New Year’s Six Bowl last year, but has a new coach at the helm. Marcus Freeman takes over and has recruited well so far. This season will give him the chance to prove his coaching abilities. Tyler Buchner is expected to take over at quarterback with his offensive line all back. The running game could help the offense finish in the top 20 again in scoring. The defense has impact players on every level after ranking 15th in scoring last season. Notre Dame will be looking to make another New Year’s Six Bowl with their roster.
The matchup could end up being close and have a big impact on bowl games.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish at USC Trojans (Nov. 26)
Notre Dame and USC play for the Jewelled Shillelagh in a unique rivalry game. This season, the game features two teams who could have a lot at stake.
The Fighting Irish have already been reviewed, but this game could swing in their favor because Buchner will have plenty of reps under his belt. Developing him is the most important thing for Notre Dame’s future success. The biggest challenge in this game will be slowing down USC’s playmakers. If the Fighting Irish can do that, they can get the win on the road.
Lincoln Riley has hit the transfer portal hard this offseason. Quarterback Caleb Williams, running back Travis Dye and wide receiver Jordan Addison are all capable of being stars. The defense will have to significantly improve for USC to compete, as they ranked outside of the top 100 in scoring last season. While that improvement is needed, the Trojans have the potential to compete in the Pac-12.
This game falls on the last Saturday of the regular season and could have a lot of hype surrounding it.
6. Utah Utes at Florida Gators (Sep. 3)
One of the more unique nonconference matchups features Utah vs. Florida. The two programs have met just once before in 1977. Florida walked away with a win that day.
Utah has a lot of hype surrounding them this season after making the Rose Bowl following last season. Quarterback Cameron Rising and running back Tavion Thomas should have the offense rolling again. The defense returns five starters, but should be competitive. Another Pac-12 title will be on the mind of the Utes.
Florida is going to break in a new coach, Billy Napier, in this game. He has had success at Louisiana and Florida will be his next challenge. He’ll have 11 returning starters and will need quarterback Anthony Richardson to live up to the hype for the offense to improve. The defense has some good players, but the unit struggled last season. This will be the first big test to see if Florida can improve from their six wins in 2021.
Even though Utah is projected to have a much better season than Florida, the Gators are favored in the season opener. Either way, it should be a great game.
5. Miami Hurricanes at Texas A&M Aggies (Sep. 17)
Two programs who are really flourishing with NIL deals and hoping to take a big step forward this season will meet in College Station.
Miami found their new quarterback in Tyler Van Dyke. He stepped in last season when D’Eriq King was injured and impressed. He has fans buzzing after the Hurricanes won five of their last six games. Six starters rejoin him on offense, while the defense has four starters back. Defensively, they need to find a way to stop the pass better.
The Aggies need to figure out the quarterback situation, but have a lot of talent on their roster. Devon Achane and Ainias Smith both can create big plays on offense. The defense ranked third in the country last season and has five starters back. Texas A&M’s back seven on defense will specifically be strong this season. Jimbo Fisher will be vying to win the SEC West for the first time.
With Van Dyke going up against an experienced secondary, the game could really end up entertaining.
4. Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Nov. 5)
Ever since Notre Dame agreed to play five of their games against the ACC every season, their matchups against Clemson have produced.
Clemson comes into the season after winning 10 games last season. Their defense was great last year, ranking second in scoring. Six starting defenders are back including some great talent on the defensive line. The offense needs to do much better if Clemson wants to go to the College Football Playoff again. The talent is there with quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, but last season didn’t go well and he’ll have a new coordinator. If he gets back on track, the sky is the limit for this Clemson team.
With Clemson’s defense being so good, Notre Dame will really have their offense tested. Buchner is the projected quarterback for this season and beyond. His dual-threat abilities could create big plays. If he can come of age in this game, the Fighting Irish stand a chance.
Clemson’s defense will likely be able to lead the team to a win, but it won’t be easy.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide at Texas Longhorns (Sep. 10)
Alabama vs. Texas features plenty of former members of the Crimson Tide going up against their old team. With two storied programs and familiar faces going up against each other, there is a lot of anticipation for this game.
The Crimson Tide made the National Championship last season. Bryce Young returns after winning the Heisman Trophy. While new playmakers need to be found, scoring hasn’t been a problem in recent years. Defensively, Will Anderson and Dallas Turner will wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. They also have talent in the secondary. Alabama is having a championship or bust season ahead of them.
Texas won just five games last season. Former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is now the head coach for the Longhorns. He has Quinn Ewers at quarterback, who was a highly-touted recruit who transferred in from Ohio State. Ewers will have talent around him with running back Bijan Robinson and wide receiver Xavier Worthy. The defense wasn’t very good last season, but returns eight starters from last season including linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, who is a solid NFL Draft prospect. There is reason to believe Texas can do much better in 2022.
This game will be played at Texas, in the heat and the Longhorns will know so much of what Alabama wants to do. Although Alabama will be favored, Texas should be able to keep it close.
2. Georgia Bulldogs vs. Oregon Ducks (Sep. 3 in Atlanta, GA)
Another former assistant going against his old team happens to open the season. Dan Lanning will take on Kirby Smart, who he worked for last season, in a big game to open the season.
Georgia is coming off of a National Championship, but they have a lot to replace. Stetson Bennett resumes his role as starting quarterback with five other returning starters. New offensive weapons will either need to step up or carry more of the load. The defense lost so many great players to the NFL, but Georgia reloads. They will still have a National Championship on their minds even after winning one and losing so much.
The Ducks will hope Lanning has some inside intel on how to beat the Bulldogs. Either Bo Nix or Ty Thompson will be the new quarterback for Oregon. They will have a good offensive line in front of them, but the offense is a huge question heading into the season. The defense has seven returning starters, but will have to replace the pass rush of Kayvon Thibodeaux. Oregon is very much in play to win the Pac-12.
Georgia will play a virtual home game in Atlanta and should be favored. Look for them to start slow though, as they have plenty of new players to break in.
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio State Buckeyes (Sep. 3)
Two of the most historic programs will play in week 1 of the college football season. Notre Dame and Ohio State have met a few times before, but not often in the regular season.
This game will be a huge test for Notre Dame in a lot of ways. It is Freeman’s first regular-season game as head coach and it comes against the team he played for and coached. Buchner will take over as the full-time starter at quarterback after splitting time last season. The Fighting Irish are being thrown in against the fire early.
Ohio State has some real ambition this season with quarterback C.J. Stroud back under center. He’ll have a solid offensive line, running back TreVeyon Henderson and wide receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba. The offense should be one of the best in the country. The defense has to improve after a disappointing 2021, but they have a new defensive coordinator and some talented players to help.
The Buckeyes are projected to win this game, but there is nothing like a big game on the opening weekend of college football to get the juices flowing.
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