We’re less than a month from the start of college football season. As more and more conference games are played early in the season, we will see many games in the early weeks of the college football season. Most of the top teams across the country tend to plan some softer competition in the non-conference portion of the season to try and iron out any issues they might have before their conference games begin, but they also usually throw in a tougher game to help see where they stand. Then there’s Michigan playing against menacing opponents Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn.
So what are the best non-conference games on the schedule this year? One topping lists across 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 highly anticipated. Ohio State has national championship ambitions. Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman returns to his alma mater to begin his first season as head coach of the Fighting Irish. The battle between two of college football’s most historic programs definitely deserves the primetime slot it gets.
Here are 10 other non-conference games I’m really looking forward to this year:
10) State of Iowa vs. Iowa | September 10 at 4 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network
No list of the best non-conference games is complete without El Assico. Honestly, there is nothing more to say about this game. Just sit back and accept what 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 that we get such strong non-conference games in October. On the other hand, if you are BYU, every game is a non-conference game. At least for now.
BYU is bringing all of its starters back on defense while Arkansas is extremely talented on offense. It will be interesting to see which unit wins. Both teams will have played brutal schedules in this game. BYU will already have faced Baylor, Oregon and Notre Dame. On the other hand, Arkansas will not only have battled Cincinnati, Texas A&M and Alabama, but this will also be the middle of a three-game road trip beginning in Mississippi state and ending in Auburn two weeks later.
8) Oklahoma vs. Nebraska | Sept. 17 at 12 p.m. ET on FOX
Old Big 12 opponents go head-to-head in Lincoln after the Sooners clinched 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 avoid having to live in Oklahoma. It feels like Riley left the Oklahoma closet pretty bare, but at least Venables was able to bring in transfer quarterback Dillon Gabriel from UCF.
This is a game Scott Frost absolutely needs if he wants to be the head coach in Nebraska after this season. The Cornhuskers have lost so many close games in recent years that it’s time they won a few close ones. Texas quarterback Casey Thompson was added to the program, so maybe some new blood under center is just what Nebraska needs.
7) Notre Dame vs. USC | November 26, Time and Network TBD
Not only do the Fighting Irish start their regular season with a very tough competition, they also end the regular season with their biannual trip to Los Angeles. Who knows what the situation will lead to in this game? Perhaps the Fighting Irish will find a way to take out the Buckeyes and Clemson and need a win to secure a playoff berth. Or maybe Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams take control of the Pac-12 in their first season with the Trojans. I have a feeling if any, it will be the latter of those scenarios.
6) Cincinnati vs. Arkansas | September 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
How is Luke Fickell reacting after leading Cincinnati to their best season in school history and a place in the college football playoffs? It feels like Cincinnati drafted so many players last year that Fickell has to replace his entire team. The Bearcats have a former Ohio State player on their roster in defensive end Noah Potter, who moved to Cincinnati. Another transfer worth keeping an eye on for the Bearcats is running back Corey Kiner, who began 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, ending the season 9-4. Using the transfer portal, Pittman brought in a number of four- and five-star recruits to bolster an already talented team. Cincinnati have to do it if they want to beat Arkansas in Fayetteville.
5) Penn State vs. Auburn | September 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
This is a repeat of last year’s State College competition where Penn State defeated Auburn 28-20. The Tigers weren’t doing Penn State any favors by scheduling this for a September afternoon in Alabama, so things could get pretty hot for the Nittany Lions. Running back tank Bigsby is making a return for the Tigers, but it will be interesting to see who holds the quarterback position after Bo Nix’s transfer. Zach Calzada joined the program from Texas A&M, while TJ Finley spent some time under middle last year after joining from LSU.
If Penn State is able to get through Auburn, there could be big showdowns in Michigan and against Ohio State in October. Aside from the Ann Arbor game against the Wolverines, this is the toughest away game on the Nittany Lions schedule this year. At least Penn State has Sean Clifford as quarterback who can use his 47-year college experience to try and stay away from the crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
4) Oregon vs. Georgia | September 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
The only thing that would be cool in college football would be if the previous year’s champion got the game that opened the season like the NFL does. Instead, the Bulldogs will open their 2022 season in their second home as they host Oregon in Atlanta.
Not only does Georgia have to face off against an Oregon team that has a lot of talent, but also against an Oregon team managed by Dan Lanning, who was formerly an assistant on Kirby Smart’s staff. While Lanning may not have quite as many athletes at his disposal as he did when he was with Georgia, he knows many of the secrets of Smart and the Bulldogs. Also, we saw that the Ducks aren’t afraid to go into a difficult environment, so this game could end up being tighter than the pundits think.
3) Utah vs. Florida | September 3 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
If the Utes want to sit at the big boy table of college football, this is a game they have to win. Utah pushed Ohio State to its limits in the Rose Bowl late last season. Now they’re starting this season with one of the toughest non-conference games they’ve played in school history. If Utah can win here, they will definitely have a head start in their quest to make the college football playoffs.
They might as well appoint Urban Meyer as the special guest umpire 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 a loss as Napier will need some time to clean up the mess Dan Mullen made.
2) Miami (FL) vs. Texas A&M | September 17 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
That has all the makings of being a Game of the Year contender. Mario Cristobal is already proud again of the Miami program despite not coaching a game yet, while Jimbo Fisher’s strategy at Texas A&M feels like he’s at the head of one of Europe’s top football clubs and the transfer window has just opened.
Though it feels like Cristobal will put Miami back at the top of the ACC (or wherever Miami ends up after the smoke clears from the conference’s realignment) in no time. The Hurricanes have quarterback Tyler Van Dyke back, which should help them remain competitive in a game played in a very difficult environment. Just ask Alabama what it’s like playing in front of all these freaks at College Station.
Not only will this game tell you where both teams could be heading for the rest of the season, but it could also set the table for a big rematch in 2023 in Miami, where both teams are expected to have even higher expectations. As a fan of either team it will be great to just sit back and watch what will hopefully be a great game.
1) Alabama vs. Texas | Sept. 10 at 12 p.m. ET on FOX
Will this game be competitive? Probably not. will it be fun Absolutely.
I can already imagine how this game will end. Texas will challenge Matthew McConaughey to deliver an inspirational speech, and then Bryce Young and Alabama will destroy Texas on a likely 150-degree day in Austin. Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt won’t be able to stop talking about Arch Manning while Will Anderson goes after Quinn Ewers and the other Longhorn quarterbacks.
In a few years, this won’t be a non-conference game since Texas will be a member of the SEC. This game will give former Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns an idea of where they are right now. Obviously, Texas is making some waves in recruiting so the result won’t tell the full story here, but at least the run-up to the game should give Longhorn fans something to cheer about. Who knows, maybe Texas will even do the unthinkable and beat Alabama…and, in true Texan fashion, lose to UTSA the following week.