We are less than a month away from the start of the college football season. While there are more and more conference games being played near the start of the season, a lot of the games we are going to see in the first few weeks of the college football season. Most of the top teams around the country schedule mostly weaker competition in the non-conference portion of the season to try and iron out any issues they may have before their conference games begin, but they usually also sprinkle in a tougher game to see where they condition. Then there is Michigan, who is playing menacing opponents Colorado State, Hawaii, and UConn.
So what are the best non-conference games on the schedule this year? One that is topping lists around the country is Notre Dame-Ohio State in Columbus on September 3rd. It’s easy to see why the clash between the Fighting Irish and Buckeyes is heavily anticipated. Ohio State has national championship aspirations. Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman returns to his alma mater to kick off his first season as head coach of the Fighting Irish. The battle between two of the most historic college football programs is definitely deserving of the primetime slot that it is getting.
Here are 10 other non-conference games that I’m excited to watch this year:
10) Iowa State vs. Iowa | September 10 at 4 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network
No list of best non-conference games is complete without El Assico. Honestly, nothing else needs to be said about this game. Just sit back and embrace whatever is given to you during this game.
9) BYU vs. Arkansas | October 15, time and network TBD
This has all the makings of a very fun game. It’s not often we get such strong non-conference games in October. Then again, when you are BYU every game is a non-conference game. At least for now.
BYU is returning all their starters on defense, while Arkansas is extremely talented on offense. It’ll be interesting to see which unit wins out. Both teams will have played brutal schedules heading into this one. BYU will have already faced Baylor, Oregon, and Notre Dame. On the other side, not only will Arkansas have battled Cincinnati, Texas A&M, and Alabama, but this will be the middle of a three-game road trip that starts at Mississippi State, and ends two weeks later at Auburn.
8) Oklahoma vs. Nebraska | September 17 at 12 noon ET on FOX
Old Big 12 foes square off in Lincoln after the Sooners were able to squeak out a 23-16 win in Norman last year. A lot has changed for Oklahoma, as Brent Venables is now the head coach after Lincoln Riley did what anyone would do and took a bunch of money to not have to live in Oklahoma. It feels like Riley pretty much left the cupboard just at Oklahoma, but at least Venables was able to bring in transfer quarterback Dillon Gabriel from UCF.
This is a game that Scott Frost absolutely needs if he wants to be the head coach at Nebraska after this season. The Cornhuskers have lost so many close games the last few years, it is time they win a few close ones. Texas quarterback Casey Thompson transferred into the program, so maybe some new blood under center is just what Nebraska needs.
7) Notre Dame vs. USC | Nov. 26, time and network TBD
The Fighting Irish not only start their regular season with a very tough contest, they finish the regular season with their bi-annual trip out to Los Angeles. Who knows what the situation will be leading into this game? Maybe the Fighting Irish find a way to knock off the Buckeyes and Clemson and need a win to secure a playoff spot. Or maybe Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams take control of the Pac-12 in their first season with the Trojans. I feel like if anything, it’ll be the laugh of those scenarios.
6) Cincinnati vs. Arkansas | September 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
How does Luke Fickell respond after leading Cincinnati to their best season in school history, and a spot in the College Football Playoff? It feels like Cincinnati had so many players drafted last year that Fickell has to replace his entire team. The Bearcats do have a former Ohio State player on their roster in defensive end Noah Potter, who transferred to Cincinnati. Another transfer that will be worth keeping an eye on for the Bearcats is running back Corey Kiner, who started his college career at LSU.
It feels like Arkansas is ahead of schedule under head coach Sam Pittman, who is in his third season with the Razorbacks. Last year Arkansas was one of the most exciting teams in the country, finishing the season at 9-4. Pittman took advantage of the transfer portal, bringing in a number of four and five-star recruits to add to an already talented team. Cincinnati is going to have to bring it if they want to beat Arkansas in Fayetteville.
5) Penn State vs. Auburn | September 17 at 3:30 pm ET on CBS
This is a rematch from last year’s contest in State College, which saw Penn State take down Auburn 28-20. The Tigers didn’t do Penn State any favors by scheduling this for a September afternoon in Alabama, so it could get pretty toasty for the Nittany Lions. The Tigers have running back Tank Bigsby returning, but it’ll be interesting to see who has a hold of the quarterback position after the transfer of Bo Nix. Zach Calzada joined the program from Texas A&M, while TJ Finley saw some time under center last year after transferring from LSU.
If Penn State is able to get through Auburn, it could set up huge showdowns at Michigan and against Ohio State in October. Aside from the game in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines, this is the toughest road game on the Nittany Lions’ schedule this year. At least Penn State has Sean Clifford at quarterback, who can use his 47 years of college experience to try and not let the crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium get to him.
4) Oregon vs. Georgia | September 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
The one thing that would be cool in college football would be if the champion of the previous year got the game that opened the season, like what the NFL does. Instead, the Bulldogs will open their 2022 campaign in their second home, as they host Oregon in Atlanta.
Not only does Georgia have to take on an Oregon team that has a lot of talent, but they’ll also be taking on an Oregon team that is led by Dan Lanning, who used to be an assistant on Kirby Smart’s staff. While Lanning might not have quite the amount of athletes at his disposal as he did when he was with Georgia, he knows a lot of the secrets of Smart and the Bulldogs. Plus, we have seen that the Ducks aren’t scared to go into a tough environment, so this game could end up being closer than the experts think.
3) Utah vs. Florida | September 3 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
If the Utes want to sit at college football’s big boy table, this is a game they have to win. Utah took Ohio State to the limit in the Rose Bowl to end last season. Now they start this season with one of the toughest non-conference games that they have played in school history. If Utah is able to win here, they will definitely have a leg up in their quest to reach the College Football Playoff.
They might as well name Urban Meyer special guest referee for this game since Meyer came to Gainesville to coach the Gators after spending a year in Salt Lake City, where he led the Utes to an undefeated season. Florida will be playing their first game under new head coach Billy Napier, so they could be ripe for defeat since it’ll take time for Napier to clean up the mess Dan Mullen made.
2) Miami (FL) vs. Texas A&M | September 5 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
This has all the makings of being a Game of the Year candidate. Mario Cristobal is already restoring some pride in the Miami program despite not having yet coached a game, while Jimbo Fisher’s strategy at Texas A&M feels like it is to splash around the NIL cash like he is the head of one of Europe’s top soccer clubs and the transfer window just opened up.
Even though it feels like Cristobal is going to have Miami back near the top of the ACC (or wherever Miami ends up after all the smoke clears from conference realignment) in no time. The Hurricanes have quarterback Tyler Van Dyke returning, which should help them stay competitive in a game that will be played in a very tough environment. Just ask Alabama what it is like to play in front of all those freaks in College Station.
This game will not only tell you where both teams could be heading the rest of the season, but it also could set the table for a huge rematch in 2023 in Miami, where both teams figure to have even higher expectations. As a fan of either team, it’ll be great just to sit back and watch what will hopefully be a great game.
1) Alabama vs. Texas | September 10 at 12 noon ET on FOX
Is this game going to be competitive? Probably not. Is it going to be hilarious? Absolutely.
I can already imagine how this game is going to play out. Texas is going to trot out Matthew McConaughey to give some inspirational speech and then Bryce Young and Alabama are going to destroy Texas in what will probably be a 150-degree day in Austin. Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt won’t be able to stop talking about Arch Manning while Will Anderson hunts down Quinn Ewers and the other Longhorn quarterbacks.
In a couple of years this won’t be a non-conference game, since Texas will be a member of the SEC. This game will provide former Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns with an idea of where they stand right now. Obviously, Texas is making some waves in recruiting so the result here won’t tell the whole story, but at least the lead-up to the game should give Longhorn fans a reason to get excited. Who knows, maybe Texas might even do the unthinkable and beat Alabama…..and in true Texas fashion lose the following week to UTSA.