Oregon Ducks vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Last year, the Oregon Ducks won one of the biggest non-conference games in years — knocking off Ohio State at the Horseshoe. Can they pull of an upset for a second year in a row? The Ducks will look different this year. Mario Cristobal is now the HC at Miami, and Dan Lanning — a member of Georgia’s staff last season — is now in charge. Auburn transfer Bo Nix is likely to enter the season as QB1, but the jury is out on his ability to lead a team to the CFP.
No matter who takes snaps at QB for the Ducks, it may be tough for the team to score on Georgia. Despite losing a ton of talent to the NFL, the defending champion Bulldogs figure to have one of the nation’s top defenses. Offensively, Kirby Smart’s team will once again be led by Stetson Bennett. While both teams will likely be better later in the season, this should be a great contest between two top teams.
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Utah Utes @ Florida Gators
While a certain portion of the country may tell you the Florida Gators are the team to beat in this game, they are not. Following a 1-2 start to their 2021 season, the Utah Utes came on strong and finished the year with a Rose Bowl appearance. Offensively, the Pac-12 champions return starting QB Cameron Rising and five of their top six receivers from last season. Tailback Tavion Thomas, who rushed for 1,108 yards and 21 scores, also returns. Replacing linebackers Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell will be tough, but the Utes should be able to adjust.
As for Florida, the Gators are coming off a 6-7 season. The offense should be improved with quarterback Anthony Richardson set to start from day one. The team has a nice group of running backs, as well. However, help is needed on both lines — especially the defensive line. Last year, Florida finished 10th in the SEC against the run. Utah’s skill and experience should carry them past the Gators in The Swamp.
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Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ Ohio State Buckeyes
On September 3, 2022, two of the country’s top teams will meet in Columbus in a matchup between two College Football Playoff contenders. Both Ohio State and Notre Dame open the season ranked in the top-5 — the Buckeyes are No. 2, the Irish No. 5. The visiting Irish will likely be led by Tyler Buchner at QB. Notre Dame’s offensive line is very good, and will be blocking for a solid stable of backs. However, the star of the show is TE Michael Mayer — likely to be the top TE drafted in 2023. Defensively, the Irish have stars at all three levels on defense.
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 for a reason. Returning six starters on both sides of the ball, Ohio State has a strong defensive front featuring Zach Harrison, Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau. Offensively, running back TreVeyon Henderson, wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba (95 catches in ’21), and Heisman Trophy contender C.J. Stroud — 4,435 yards and 44 TDs — are back. This game could go a long way determining one of the four CFP berths.
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Cincinnati Bearcats @ Arkansas Razorbacks
The Bearcats won’t be as good as last year’s team, but that shouldn’t be held against them. The 2021 season was a dream for Cincinnati. In addition to replacing quarterback Desmond Ridder — now with the Atlanta Falcons — the Bearcats will be tasked with replacing lead back Jerome Ford and No. 4 overall pick Sauce Gardner. Arkansas enters the new season with a ton of confidence. Star quarterback KJ Jefferson is primed to take another step. In addition to throwing 21 TDs and just four interceptions last season, Jefferson led the team with 664 rushing yards and six scores.
The talented QB will have four returning linemen protecting him — but he must find a way to make up for the loss of star wideout Treylon Burks. If there is one thing that will limit Arkansas in 2022, it’s the defense. The Hogs allowed 29.6 PPG in conference play last year, and surrendered 37 points or more in all four losses. Remember, Cincinnati knocked off Notre Dame in South Bend last year. Can the Bearcats take down another Power-5 foe in 2022?
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Alabama Crimson Tide @ Texas Longhorns
Two of the six winningest teams in college football history will…lock horns this season. Of course, preseason No. 1 Alabama will enter this matchup heavily favored. The Crimson Tide boast arguably the nation’s two best players — quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, and All-America linebacker Will Anderson. Texas finished a disappointing 5-7 in 2021, but the Longhorns have a good amount of talent on their roster. Bijan Robinson is a stud at running back, the receiving corps is solid, and former No. 1 prospect QB Quinn Ewers may be QB1 when this game is played. Can Texas keep up with the nation’s top team?
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Baylor Bears @ BYU Cougars
BYU is legit. For those of you living on the East Coast or in the South, you likely haven’t had many opportunities to watch the Cougars play. Led by quarterback Jaren Hall, the Cougars are a legitimate top-25 caliber team capable of beating most teams in the country. Before joining the Big 12 next year, BYU will play non-conference opponents including Notre Dame, Oregon, and Stanford. But their first big matchup of the year is against Baylor.
The Bears finished last season 12-2 — capping off their season with a 21-7 victory over Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. Dave Aranda’s team boasts an experienced offensive line and a potentially potent defensive front. The d-line — led by All-Big 12 nose tackle Siaki “Apu” Ika — returns its entire two-deep. This game pits two very good teams against one another. Don’t be surprised if the Cougars pull out the victory at home.
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Penn State Nittany Lions @ Auburn Tigers
While neither Penn State nor Auburn are entering the year with massive expectations, this game is still one of the better non-conference tilts of the year. Last year, the Nittany Lions eked out a 28-20 victory over the Tigers at Happy Valley. Quarterback Sean Clifford returns for his super senior year, but the rest of State’s offense is suspect. The running back group is unproven, the offensive line play is shoddy, and wideout Jahan Dotson is now in the NFL.
Auburn, meanwhile, is stuck in a weird spot. The team is comprised of talented players, but the chemistry and coaching staff is questionable at best. Quarterback Bo Nix is no longer with the program (Oregon), but running back Tank Bigsby may be the best back in the SEC. Auburn’s defense will be tasked with keeping the team in most games…but it also replaces a fair amount of production. Two big-name schools, two mediocre teams, one semi-big game.
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West Virginia Mountaineers @ Pittsburgh Panthers
The Pittsburgh Panthers open the year with big, back-to-back non-conference matchups. To open the season, Pitt takes on West Virginia. One year ago, the Panthers won 11 games thanks in large part to star QB Kenny Pickett (Steelers) and Jordan Addison — one of the nation’s top wideouts who is now with USC. Taking Pickett’s place at QB is USC transfer Kedon Slovis. Slovis is solid, but Pitt’s main strength may be its defensive line where it’s led by Calijah Kancey and Habakkuk Baldonado — both All-ACC players.
West Virginia has been a mediocre squad the past few seasons, but it may be ready to take a step forward in 2022. Former USC and Georgia quarterback JT Daniels is now a Mountaineer and is likely to take over as QB1. Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James are one of the best WR duos in the Big 12 and will be a key part of the offense. Defensively, the Mountaineers are especially strong upfront. If the team finishes with a winning record, its defensive line will be a main reason why.
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Michigan State Spartans @ Washington Huskies
Entering the season ranked No. 14 in the country, the Michigan State Spartans will enter this matchup as the favorite over the host Washington Huskies. The Spartans return quarterback Payton Thorne — which is especially important considering the loss of star running back Kenneth Walker III to the NFL. Jarek Broussard, a transfer from Colorado, and Jalen Berger (Wisconsin) will try to replace Walker’s production. UW began last year ranked No. 20, and proceeded to lose to Montana en route to a 4-8 season. Jaxson Kirkland, an All-Pac-12 OT, is back. The Huskies have a three-way battle for QB1, but all three players are promising talents. Washington may not be as good as Michigan State, but an upset isn’t off the table.
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Miami Hurricanes @ Texas A&M Aggies
This is a huge game. A Week 3 showdown featuring two top-20 teams — Texas A&M is No. 7, Miami checks in at No. 17. Ultimately, this ACC/SEC battle may have huge College Football Playoff ramifications. With former Oregon HC Mario Cristobal now in charge, the Hurricanes begin the year with a ton of hype. Tyler Van Dyke is regarded as one of the top QB’s for the 2023 NFL Draft. The U’s offensive line is strong, but it must replace a ton of production within its receiving corps. The Aggies are one of the most talented team’s in the country, and may be ready to challenge Alabama in the SEC West. A&M brought in the No. 1 recruiting class to bolster its roster. This game represents a huge measuring stick for both programs, but especially Miami.
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Washington State Cougars @ Wisconsin Badgers
This may seem like a strange game at first glance, but Washington State could shock the country in this tilt. The Cougars have a stud at quarterback in Cameron Ward. Ward, a transfer from FCS Incarnate Word, is a top-20 Heisman candidate entering the year. Defensively, Wazzu has a great tandem along the line in Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson (combined for 9.5 sacks in 2021). Wisconsin returns just eight starters (5 offense, 3 defense). The defense allowed just 16.2 PPG last season, but it is asking a lot to replace eight starters on that side of the ball. On the other side of the ball, sophomore running back Braelon Allen will look to push for All-America honors. As a true freshman last year, Allen rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored 12 rushing TDs.
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Florida State Seminoles vs. LSU Tigers
Florida State and LSU are two of the biggest brands in college football. However, neither program enters the 2022 season with lofty expectations. The Seminoles have posted four-straight losing seasons (19-27 overall), and don’t figure to win more than 7-8 games this year. At the moment, FSU’s defense appears to be ahead of the offense. As for LSU, the Tigers will be led by new HC Brian Kelly. Kelly should turn things around quickly, but LSU hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire since its historic 2019 season. After a 5-5 record in ’20, the Tigers finished last year 6-7. There is talent on both sidelines, but it remains to be seen how these two squads will come together.
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Boise State Broncos @ Oregon State Beavers
This is a sneaky-big game for Oregon State. If the Beavs want to take the next step in once again being a credible program, it starts here with this sizable non-conference tilt. Boise State has been a rock-solid program for the last two decades. Hank Bachmeier and George Holani represent a nice one-two punch for the Broncos. The Beavs do have enough talent to win this contest. It would be a nice feather in Jonathan Smith’s cap.
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Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ USC Trojans
This is a massive game for USC. The fan base thinks of its program as a blue blood. Traditionally, this is the case — though the results on the field as of late haven’t indicated that to be true. We’re not worried about the offense. The combo of Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison, Mario Williams, Travis Dye, and the host of other athletes should result in a ton of points. It’s the defense which remains a concern. Even with an influx of transfers, we aren’t completely convinced USC will suddenly remedy that side of the ball. We could see a scenario where we see plenty of 49-42 games this season.
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Oklahoma Sooners @ Nebraska Cornhuskers
This might be the defining game of the Scott Frost era. It’s been a slow slog for Frost in building the program. He’s also gotten some considerable flack from the fan base. However, as it currently stands, this might be his most talented team. If Frost can’t give the fans some real improvement from a Wins-Loss standpoint, he’ll likely be gone after this year. Two Texas transfers (QB Casey Thompson, WR Marcus Washington) and one from LSU (WR Trey Palmer) will lead this offense.
Speaking of transfers, prolific UCF QB Dillon Gabriel opted to become OU’s starting signal-caller (after a brief stop at UCLA). While he’s not overly big at 5-foot-11, Gabriel has above-average arm strength and terrific touch on the football. Brent Venables figures to inject more of a defensive identity for this program (which was in desperate need of one).
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BYU Cougars @ Oregon Ducks
Before officially joining the Big 12, BYU gets one last year at being a major thorn in the side of other Power 5 programs. With the unique set-up of players leaving for missions, there are times where the Cougars will field players 24-to-25 years of age (especially up front). For an 18-20 year old, that isn’t easy to deal with. Duly, BYU’s increasing profile has led to it getting better skill players. QB Jaren Hall is a stud. Cal RB transfer Christopher Brooks is a load at 240 pounds. The offensive line is loaded with talent, and the defense as a whole should be better.
Even with this game being played at home, this is a potentially scary matchup for Oregon. While the Ducks have more team speed, we do wonder if they’re physical enough to combat the ‘grown man’ strength of BYU. Duly, is Bo Nix really the answer at QB for this team?
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Arizona State Sun Devils @ Oklahoma State Cowboys
The vibe in Tempe right now is not a good one. Arizona State was SLAMMED by the transfer portal — losing over 20 guys from last year’s roster (including QB Jayden Daniels and not including stud RB Rachaad White). The team went through a massive overhaul, and appears primed to be led by Florida transfer QB Emory Jones and former Wyoming RB Xazavian Valladay. Among the 14 transfers brought in, we also did see some additions from Auburn, Penn State, Alabama, and Miami. While the projected starting group for this team is decently talented, we have zero idea how the lack of continuity will be dealt with.
Oklahoma State should win this game based upon the fact it plays immensely well in Stillwater. Not only that, but this year’s team looks to be even better than the 12-win bunch from a year ago. QB Spencer Sanders is the straw stirring the drink for this program. Almost all of the top receivers from last year’s team return, and Derek Mason figures to be a nice upgrade at the Defensive Coordinator spot. Also — watch out for defensive end Collin Oliver.
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Iowa State Cyclones @ Iowa Hawkeyes
This might be a tough game for the Cyclones. We hate the dreaded ‘rebuilding year’ tag, but it’s quite apropos considering the depth lost. That’s not to say Matt Campbell won’t have this team competitive. He’s a fantastic coach and developer of talent. Still, a host of new names will have to emerge for this program.
Iowa’s coming off a 10-win season. The defense was fantastic at turning the opponent over (leading CFB in interceptions with 25). Much of that talent is coming back. For Iowa, the key is reviving a putrid offense. To put it mildly, it struggled big time last year. We don’t know who the starter is going to be at QB, and the offensive line — normally a major strength under Kirk Ferentz — must get way better if this team is to compete for a Big Ten title.
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Tennessee Volunteers @ Pittsburgh Panthers
This is actually a rather fascinating game. Pitt quietly won 11 games last year (though losing Jordan Addison doesn’t help). USC transfer Kedon Slovis is now the starting quarterback. Honestly speaking, he likely has superior physical tools to Kenny Pickett. The offensive line returns all five starters, and the defensive line (led by all-ACC members Habakkuk Baldonado and Calijah Kancey) should be loaded.
Josh Heupel’s team is as deep as it’s been in the last 3-4 years. UT averaged 475 offensive yards per game last year (top-10 nationally). VaTech transfer Hendon Hooker is battle-tested and tough-as-nails. The defensive unit was victimized by allowing the big play. However, UT did do well in getting after opposing signal-callers. This contest ultimately could come down to the battle of the line of scrimmage. On paper, Pitt may have the slight edge.
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Fresno State Bulldogs @ USC Trojans
A classic trap game for USC. The Trojans have immense hype around the program following the insertion of Lincoln Riley as the team’s head coach. They brought over a ton of transfers — most notably QB Caleb Williams and Jordan Addison. On paper, SC should win. Here’s the thing, though…Fresno State will have zero fear heading into this game. Head Coach Jeff Tedford has plenty of experience coaching in big games. A large contingent of the red fan base will flood the Coliseum. Lastly, dynamic QB Jake Haener is back (remember the game versus UCLA in the Rose Bowl last year?).
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San Diego State Aztecs @ Utah Utes
After going on the road to Gainesville to begin the yeah, Utah is rewarded with a home game versus a very solid opponent in SDSU. The Aztecs are always well coached, tough, and physical. In a sense, they mirror Utah’s game plan rather well. Utah does have the motivation in yet again competing for (at worst) another Rose Bowl appearance. Tavion Thomas is a monster in the backfield. Cam Rising is one of the nation’s most productive QBs returning. Utah’s depth on defense is — yet again — strong. It fields potential all-conference players on each level.
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Clemson Tigers @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Clemson is coming off a ‘down year’ in which it went 9-3. QB D.J. Uiagalelei has shown some inconsistency versus better competition. Duly, outside of Will Shipley, we aren’t sure who the top playmakers will be for a program traditionally blessed with them. The front seven should be absolutely loaded. Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas, and Tyler Davis are all future NFL players.
This is a big test for first-year head coach Marcus Freeman. The defensive genius is taking over for Brian Kelly (who left for LSU). Benefitting the Fighting Irish in this contest is the fact it’s being played in South Bend. San Diego native Tyler Buchner will be the first-year starter. A fantastic athlete, look for ND to dial up plenty of run-designed plays. Isaiah Foskey is also back along the defensive line. Also hailing from California, he figures to be a future first-round pick.
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Oregon State Beavers @ Fresno State Bulldogs
This has the potential to be a sneaky-good game. Jonathan Smith is among the better talent evaluators on the West Coast. He hits the Northwest extremely hard – hoping to unearth gems left behind by Washington and Oregon. His Beavs’ teams play hard, disciplined, and with purpose. Remember, this was a top-five offense in the Pac-12 last year. OSU is also coming off its first bowl appearance in eight years.
The Bulldogs are always among the better non-Power 5 programs. This year is no different – as Jeff Tedford was able to lure Jake Haener back to the valley. The Drew Brees of College Football, Haener is highly-accurate with his throws despite his short stature in the pocket. In a lot of ways, these two teams mirror one another. However, the Bulldogs could get the edge based upon home field advantage and the talent at QB.
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North Carolina Tar Heels @ Appalachian State Mountaineers
This is a scary game for the Tar Heels. We’ve seen App State upend big-time D1 competition before (see Michigan). Plus, this isn’t your average mid-major cupcake. Appalachian State’s Chase Brice is projected to be one of the country’s best QBs (after transferring from Clemson). Ahmani Marshall (Wake Forest), Tyler Page (SMU) and Andrew Parker (Arkansas) all enter the program as expected difference-makers.
As for North Carolina, the program is coming off a disappointing 6-7 year (after being a preseason top-10 team). The Tar Heels didn’t win a game on the road last year. Duly, they were self-inflicted often by constant penalties. There’s a lot of young talent on this team. Yet, they’re breaking in a new QB on the road versus an experienced team. This sounds like a recipe for a loss.
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Houston Cougars @ UTSA Roadrunners
Houston finished 12-2 last year. Dana Holgorsen’s team was quite potent on both sides of the ball. As we head to the 2022 season, there are a plethora of players within the roster featuring on award watch lists. Among them are QB Clayton Tune, WR Nathaniel Dell, and safety Gervarrius Owens. The Cougars were also picked as one of the preseason favorites (ahead of Cincinnati) to win the AAC.
Meanwhile, the Roadrunners are also projected to win their conference (C-USA) in 2022. Seven players from the roster earned award watch list spots – including QB Frank Harris and elite defender Rashad Wisdom. While Houston is likely the deeper program, UTSA has some high-end talent that cannot be ignored. This could be a much closer game than we think.
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