With the start of the college football season rapidly approaching, which 2022 non-conference matchups could have College Football Playoff implications?
As classes begin and fall camps start to ramp up, ‘Week Zero’ of the college football season is just over two weeks away. This time of the year is when every fanbase is buzzing about their favorite team’s chance at glory. Every beat writer is highlighting the stars of camp, building hope in fans around the country.
With that said, a harsh reality often hits when your favorite team matches up against a formidable non-conference foe. On one side, it is a good early measuring stick for coaches and fans alike. On the other side, an early loss could drastically decrease your College Football Playoff chances while setting a poor tone for the rest of the season.
So, what can we expect during the ten best non-conference matchups of the 2022 college football season?
10. Baylor At BYU – September 10
Baylor and BYU will play the second half of their home-and-home series on September 10th in Provo. The 2021 Big 12 Champions topped the Cougars 38-24 last season, but Baylor did lose a good amount of production on both sides of the ball. BYU, on the other hand, returns 18 of 22 starters from a team that won ten games in 2021.
Dave Aranda’s Baylor defense will have its hands full with the connection between Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall and wide receiver Puka Nacua. I trust Aranda to slow down the BYU offense, but he certainly will not be able to fully contain it. The question becomes, can Baylor score enough points to win this game? My early lean is no, as the Bears lost running back Abram Smith and will be relying on quarterback Blake Shapen in his fourth career start.
Early lean: BYU
9. Michigan State At Washington – September 17
Michigan State and third-year head coach Mel Tucker will travel out to Seattle on September 17th to take on the Washington Huskies. The Spartans are looking to follow up a surprising 11-win 2021 season with a Big Ten title in 2022. To that I would say, pump the brakes. I fully expect the Spartans win total to decrease with the loss of Kenneth Walker III, however, I do expect them to be able to push Washington around.
The Huskies are in somewhat of a rebuild under first-year head coach Kalen DeBoer. It is DeBoer’s job to fix an offense that scored over 21 points just four times last season. I do believe the former Fresno State head coach is the right man for the job, but his team will not be ready to compete at Sparty’s level in Week Three.
Early lean: Michigan State
8. Oklahoma At Nebraska – September 17
Oklahoma and Nebraska will wrap up the second half of their home-and-home series in Lincoln after the Sooners edged out the Cornhuskers 23-16 a year ago. Since that game, Oklahoma has gone through a complete overhaul. As Lincoln Riley headed out to Hollywood with what seemed like half of the Sooners roster, Brent Venables stepped in as the new man in Norman.
Venables immediately hired two talent coordinators who helped him recruit a very good transfer class, including former UCF QB Dillon Gabriel. The lefty will put up gaudy numbers in Jeff Lebby’s offense, the question is whether or not those numbers will result in wins. I believe they will, at least in Lincoln. Scott Frost is on the hottest seat in college football after compiling a 15-29 record in four-season in Lincoln. Fortunately for Frost, I think this is the most talented team he has had in his Cornhusker tenure. Unfortunately for him, they still are nowhere near the level of the Sooners.
Early lean: Oklahoma
7. Utah At Florida – September 3
The Utah Utes will travel across the country to open up their 2022 season against the Florida Gators. This non-conference battle, though in week one, could have College Football Playoff implications come December. The last time the Utes took the field they fell at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes 48-45 in the Rose Bowl. Even in a loss, Kyle Whittingham’s squad proved they can hang with the nation’s best.
Fast-forward eight months and the Utes are Pac-12 co-favorites and considered one of the most balanced teams in the country. Florida, on the other hand, will be taking the field for the first time in the Billy Napier tenutre. Napier has a ton of questions to answer, including at the quarterback position. The Swamp will certainly be rowdy on September 3rd, but I do not know if it will be enough to slow down Cameron Rising and Utah.
Early lean: Utah
6. Notre Dame At USC – November 26
One of the most historic rivalries in college football returns in 2022 with two first-year head coaches of their respective programs. Defensive-minded Marcus Freeman and offensive-minded Lincoln Riley are certainly two of the hotter coaching commodities in the sport, but how will they fare when they square off on November 26th?
Unlike most non-conference games, both of these teams will know their identity come late November. Both could very well be in the hunt for a College Playoff Berth. There is, however, one key difference that currently separates these two teams; The relationship and proven success between Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams. As a true freshman last season under Riley at Oklahoma, Williams played like a top-five quarterback in the country. I have no doubt he will keep up the same level out west.
Early lean: USC
5. Miami At Texas A&M – September 17
Ranked seventh in the first coaches’ poll of the season, the hype is once again off the charts for Jimbo Fisher and the Texas A&M Aggies. Will they live up to it this season? It will certainly be put to the test on September 17th when non-conference foe Miami comes to town. The Hurricanes, led by first-year head coach Mario Cristobal, are ready to turn the corner and rise back atop the college football ranks. Much of their 2022 success will be predicated on potential 2023 first-round NFL Draft pick Tyler Van Dyke. The former highly touted baseball prospect tossed 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions last year for the Canes.
The 2022 Miami Hurricanes will only go as far as Van Dyke takes them. I am high on both Van Dyke and the Canes this season, but their one weakness is on the offensive line. The Aggies perfectly counteract that with one of the top defensive lines in the country. Guys like McKinnley Jackson and Shemar Turner will be able to put their hand in the dirt and let loose against the Canes.
Early lean: Texas A&M
4. Oregon Vs. Georgia – September 3
As the defensive coordinator for Georgia over the past three seasons, Oregon head coach Dan Lanning will not have to wait long to match up against his old team. In fact, the Bulldogs will be the first opponent in Lanning’s head coaching career. The pregame storyline of Lanning taking on his former team writes itself, but the play on the field may not be as exciting.
Oregon, who I expect to finish towards the top of the Pac-12 North, does not have the size and talent to compete with the Bulldogs for four quarters. Lanning, better than anybody, knows this, so I expect him to game-plan well for it. With that said, there is only so much game-planning you can do to try and block guys like Jalen Carter and Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins. The Dawgs will be barkin’ in Mercedes Benz Stadium on September 3rd.
Early lean: Georgia
3. Clemson At Notre Dame – November 5
Although 2021 was considered a ‘down’ year for the Tigers, they still won ten games, something they have done for an incredible 11 straight seasons. The quarterback battle between the incumbent, DJ Uiagalelei, and true freshman Cade Klubnik should certainly be finished by this November 5th battle. This bodes well for the Tigers, who, in my eyes, are a proven quarterback away from once again competing for a national title.
Led by Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy, and Trenton Simpson, this Clemson front-seven is one of the best in the country. They will give whoever is under center for the Irish fits all game. This game being in South Bend is a big deal for Notre Dame as they beat the Tigers at home back in 2020. With that said, this is a different, and more hungry Dabo Swinney led squad.
Early lean: Clemson
2. Alabama At Texas – September 10
Alabama and Nick Saban will head to Austin on September 10th to take on former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Although the Longhorns went 5-7 in Sarkisian’s first season, the momentum his program picked up on the recruiting trail this offseason is palpable. Texas, led by running back Bijan Robinson, will likely have one of the top scoring offenses in the nation in 2022. With that said, I expect the Tide to be a different beast over the next five months.
Saban, who suffered his first loss to a former assistant in last year’s National Championship, will not let that happen again. Bryce Young has a real chance to repeat as Heisman winner and Will Anderson is undeniably the most talented player in college football. Though it may be close early, I expect Bama to pull away with this one.
Early lean: Alabama
1. Notre Dame At Ohio State – September 3
In what I believe is the top non-conference matchup of the 2022 college football season, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame head to the Horseshoe to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. Both teams have College Football Playoff aspirations, though, one may be in a better position to get there. The Buckeyes have dominated the recruiting trail under Ryan Day and that has paid dividends when you look at their two-deep. This roster is littered with blue-chip prospects who are likely to go on and have NFL careers.
Marcus Freeman will have Notre Dame ready to compete on September 3rd, but I believe the talent disparity is just too much for the Irish to overcome. Heisman favorite CJ Stroud will be throwing it all over the ‘Shoe’ to guys like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr, and Julian Fleming.
Early lean: Ohio State