Much of the talk throughout the college football season has revolved around realignment, collectives and TV deals — all topics that have raised questions about what the future of the sport should be.
However, once the 2022 season starts, we can put that on the shelf.
Let’s talk about the games. There are great Week 1 games, Rivalry games, Conference and Non-Conference games, and Top 5 Showdowns to look forward to this season.
MORE: SN’s 2022 preseason All-America team
These are the regular season games (excluding conference championship games) that we’re most looking forward to as Week 1 (and Week 0!) is fast approaching. Here are 11 games that fit that description:
Best game of the week 1
Notre Dame, Ohio (September 3)
Should Notre Dame go into the Big Ten? Wait to see the TV reviews on this one to confirm. The Buckeyes are big favorites with an offense led by Heisman Trophy leader CJ Stroud. Former Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman will coach for the Irish in his first regular season game. Those schools have only met six times, and the Buckeyes last won home and away in the regular season in 1995-96. A new generation of fans from both sides will be able to experience this intensity in prime time.
MORE: Could Ohio State have best offense ever?
Best game of the week 2
Alabama, Texas (September 10)
Big lunch start in Austin. Texas is in the spotlight under sophomore coach Steve Sarkisian, the former Nick Saban offensive coordinator at Alabama. Quinn Ewers will be the center of attention if he wins the starting job. Can the Longhorns’ high-profile offense make it to a four-quarter game against Alabama — which will feature Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and All-American linebacker Will Anderson? These teams have not met in the regular season since 1922.
DECOURCY: Arch Manning bought Steve Sarkisian some needed time in Texas
Next best non-conference game
Utah Florida (September 3)
The Utes are 2.5-point favorites at The Swamp, where Florida hasn’t lost a home game since 1989. Billy Napier makes his debut coaching the Gators, and quarterback intrigue ensues with playmakers Cam Rising and Anthony Richardson. This is one of two big games for the Pac-12 in opening weekend; with the other in the Chick-fil-A kickoff game between Oregon and Georgia. The Ducks are 17.5 point underdogs. Florida-Utah is likely to be a closer game, and the CFP’s impact could last all season.
Best Neutral Game
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (September 24)
“Jerry World” will revisit this classic rivalry, and the winner of this SEC West Contenders Matchup will be determined as the team with their best shot later in the season in Alabama. The Razorbacks broke a nine-game losing streak against the Aggies last season, and KJ Jefferson is one of the most exciting QBs in the FBS. Jimbo Fisher is 10-5 with the Aggies in August/September and didn’t make it to October with an unbeaten record (not counting 2020). Five of the seven matchups at Arlington since 2014 have been one-score games.
Best Conference Game in September
Georgia in South Carolina (September 17)
Do not buy? This could be the reigning champions’ toughest away game until November. Oklahoma transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler is adding to the intrigue, though the Gamecocks will be in for a tough road game in Arkansas. Williams-Brice Stadium can be a difficult place to play, and the Bulldogs have been 3-3 there since 2010 – albeit with three straight wins.
MORE: SEC Predictions, Impact Transfers and More
Best Conference Game in October
NC State at Clemson (Oct. 1)
Here is the most important game on the ACC schedule. NC State has some playoff sleeper appeal centered around quarterback Devin Leary, who passed for 238 yards and four TDs in a 27-21 overtime win last season. Clemson is trying to reestablish their ACC dominance and they have the longest home winning streak in the nation at 34 games.
Best November Conference Game
Baylor in Oklahoma (Nov. 5)
Baylor coach Dave Aranda added some heat to that rivalry with a last-second field goal in a 27-14 win last season, but with Oklahoma’s first-year coach Brent Venables, it’s a different chapter now. The Bears are the defending champions of the conference. The Sooners have dominated the all-time series, but the teams are tied 4-4 with both ranked in the top 25. This was supposed to be a preview of the Big 12 championship game.
Clemson at Notre Dame (Nov. 5)
We could have gone to Oklahoma-Nebraska here since the old-school rivalry will take place in Lincoln, but we like this game better. Clemson and Notre Dame didn’t play last season, so this is their first meeting since 2020. The Irish defeated No. 1 Clemson 47-40 in this year’s regular season, but the Tigers retaliated with a 31-14 win in the ACC championship game. The last three matchups were top five showdowns and this one will impact the CFP and ACC playoffs.
Best Potential Top 10 Matchup
Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 26)
Let’s have some fun. Let’s say Notre Dame reaches the final weekend of the season with a loss and they travel to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where a USC team awaits with a loss preparing for the Pac-12 championship game. Freeman and Lincoln Riley are exactly what this rivalry needs. The Irish and Trojans have not contested a top 10 showdown since 2006, a year after the Bush Push game.
Best best for a game of the century
Michigan, Ohio (November 26)
Of course, this is the really best rivalry game. Ohio State-Michigan was the most-watched game of the regular season in 2021, and the Wolverines’ 42-27 win gave much-needed life to a one-sided rivalry. Michigan hasn’t won at Ohio State since 2000, and there’s a chance both teams are 11-0 here. If that happens, then this could be #1 vs. #2. The other, more realistic chance? Alabama meets Georgia in the SEC championship game with matching unbeaten records the following week — but that’s not a regular-season game.
DECOURCY: Michigan’s big win puts spice back into fading rivalry
SN’s Game of the Year
Texas A&M in Alabama (8 Oct)
This is a turning point game in the SEC and it should be at least a top 5 showdown. Saban and Fisher will spend the week downplaying the importance of this game, but given the off-season back and forth, the Heat will be there. Fisher became the first Saban assistant to defeat the teacher last season, and the Aggies’ 41-38 win still resonates. This game will elicit the most viral overreaction of the season, regardless of the outcome, and will set the course for who wins the SEC West – and maybe the national championship.