The beginning of college football season is approaching, and with it, some of the most exciting non-conference matchups of the year will get the season started. One of the most memorable offseasons in recent memory will give way to games in just over two months.
With the season nearing and fall camps getting underway in a little more than a month, here is a look at some of the best non-conference matchups of the 2022 season.
No.5: Miami at Texas A&M
The first matchup on this list is between two programs at the center of several off-season storylines. Miami hired new Head Coach Mario Cristobal and the administration recommitted to football. At Texas A&M, much of the last few weeks have been spent on watching the disagreement between former colleagues Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban play out.
Miami will take its first road trip of the season to College Station in week three after games against Bethune-Cookman and Southern Miss. The Hurricanes hope to compete in the ACC in Cristobal’s first year, and could prove themselves on the national stage against Texas A&M. The offense, led by Tyler Van Dyke, was excellent at the end of last season, and the defense should improve after several additions from the transfer portal this off-season.
For Texas A&M, this season will be highly anticipated. The Aggies signed one of the best recruiting classes ever in February to go along with an already talented roster. The SEC West is always a difficult division, but Jimbo Fisher’s team will have their eyes on College Football Playoff contention this year. When Miami comes into town, it will be a matchup between two programs trying to build into being among the best programs in college football.
No.4: Cincinnati at Arkansas
Cincinnati became the first group of five programs to make the College Football Playoff last season. The Bearcats’ only loss of the season was a 27-6 loss against Alabama in the College Football Playoff. While the program didn’t win a national title, the season remained program-altering, as it most likely helped Cincinnati secure a place in the Big 12, where they will play in 2023.
In Fayetteville, 2021 was an extremely positive season for Arkansas’ program. Sam Pittman’s second season got the attention of many around college football after a week two win against then No.15 Texas, and a rivalry win against then-No.7 Texas A&M a week later. Arkansas went on to finish 9-4 with an Outback Bowl victory and could take the next step forward in 2022.
Cincinnati’s week-one trip to face Arkansas has gone under the radar but should be an exciting matchup. It pits a College Football Playoff participant and a team that is at the forefront of conference realignment against a program that is entering one of its’ most anticipated seasons in decades.
No.3: Notre Dame at Ohio State
Notre Dame was one of college football’s most consistent programs in recent memory. 2021 was no different, with an 11-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl appearance. However, the Fighting Irish were one of the earliest stories of last year’s coaching changes, with long-time Head Coach Brian Kelly departing for LSU.
Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame’s former Defensive Coordinator who was promoted to Head Coach after Kelly’s departure, will face a tough matchup in his first game in charge. Notre Dame will travel to face Ohio State. The Buckeyes, like Notre Dame, have been consistent over the last decade, but last year was somewhat disappointing, despite a Rose Bowl victory.
In 2022, Ohio State will hope to once again win their matchup with Michigan at the end of the season and reach the College Football Playoff. Week one will be one of the toughest challenges of the year. They will face a good Notre Dame program trying to take the next step into national championship success for the first time since 1988, after multiple playoff appearances and countless New Year’s Six Bowl games.
No.2: Oregon vs Georgia (Atlanta, GA)
Dan Lanning, the Defensive Coordinator for Georgia’s first national title under Kirby Smart last season, will face his former program in the first game of his head coaching career at Oregon. The Ducks saw two-time Pac-12 Champion Head Coach Mario Cristobal depart for Miami last season, but Lanning should be able to continue to build the program in recruiting and with his national title experience.
He’ll face a Georgia program that is the best in the country. Head Coach Kirby Smart, since taking the job in 2016, has built the program into a true rival to the program he left, Alabama, in the SEC. Last season saw him defeat his former boss Nick Saban, in the national title game, and the championship should be his first of many.
This week one matchup will be one of the most interesting, and certainly may have the most dramatic storylines. Lanning’s return to Georgia, despite the game being in Atlanta, will be emotional. On the field, the game will see a matchup between two teams that feel they should be among the favorites for their conference titles and the College Football Playoff in 2022.
No.1: Alabama at Texas
The second weekend of the season will feature another matchup between a head coach and a former assistant. Nick Saban’s Alabama team will go on the road to face his former offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, and the Texas Longhorns.
Texas was one of the most active teams in the transfer portal last off-season, and the Longhorns’ roster should be significantly better in 2022. Quinn Ewers’ return to his home state headlined the off-season for the program, and he’ll be in competition to start for Texas this season.
Ewers, along with a top-five recruiting class, is hoping to turn the program around after a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2021. They’ll get an opportunity for a marquee win in week two when Saban and Alabama arrive in Austin.
Saban and Alabama continue to set the standard in the sport. Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, leads what should be one of the best offenses in college football. On defense, Will Anderson is quite possibly the best player in the entirety of college football, regardless of position. The pair of players on both sides of the ball will make Alabama a favorite for the national title yet again.
Texas will have an opportunity to make a statement to the college football world in this matchup, and to the SEC ahead of their move to the conference. This matchup will be one of the most exciting of the year, putting one of college football’s biggest brands, which is trying to return to their best, up against one of the most dominant dynasties in the history of the sport.