With the unofficial start of the college football season set to kick off Saturday, WPTV.com takes a look at the most anticipated games of 2022.
West Virginia at No. 17 Pittsburgh
The "Backyard Brawl" returns after an 11-year hiatus. These former Big East Conference rivals met annually from 1943 until 2011, separated by 75 miles along Interstate 79. But the series was disrupted after the Mountaineers jumped to the Big 12 Conference in 2012 and the Panthers pounced to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013. Now it's back, with West Virginia still owning a three-game winning streak before the rivalry went dormant. Pittsburgh is the reigning ACC champion, but the team's outlook for the 2022 season changed abruptly in May when Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison opted to transfer to Southern California. That leaves the Panthers without the nation's most outstanding wide receiver and quarterback Kenny Pickett, who became a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh will turn to USC transfer Kedon Slovis, who started 26 games for the Trojans but struggled last season and found a new home at Pitt. West Virginia is also likely to have a transfer line up behind center. Former USC and Georgia quarterback JT Daniels, who started three games for the Bulldogs during their national championship campaign last season, is expected to be the starter for the Mountaineers, who are entering their fourth year under Neal Brown but have yet to win more than six games.
No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State
Both teams were on the cusp of making the College Football Playoff last season. The loser of this game could wind up on the outside looking in on one of the top four spots at the end of this season. When Brian Kelly decided to move on from Notre Dame after 12 seasons, athletic director Jack Swarbrick had to move swiftly to find a replacement. His choice was defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who coached the Fighting Irish in their 37-35 loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. Freeman noted that the "honeymoon is over" after the Irish squandered a 21-point first-half lead in the game. But all is likely to be forgiven should Notre Dame notch a victory at Ohio Stadium. The Irish and Buckeyes have met four times since 1995, with Ohio State winning them all, including a pair of Fiesta Bowl victories to conclude the 2005 and 2015 seasons. This will be Notre Dame's first trip to "the Horseshoe" since Ohio State's 45-26 win in 1995.
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 11 Oregon
There's sure to be a partisan crowd in Atlanta to see the defending national champions. Oregon head coach and former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning coached the Bulldogs in their 33-18 win against Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Georgia, fresh off its first national title since 1980, will return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where their lone blemish of the 2021 season – a 41-24 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship game – took place. The Bulldogs lost a record-15 players to the NFL Draft, but quarterback Stetson Bennett is back. So is tight end Brock Bowers, who caught 56 passes for 882 yards and a school-record 13 touchdowns as a freshman last season. The Ducks carry a two-game losing streak with them across the country for just the second-ever meeting between the teams. Auburn transfer Bo Nix is the favorite to start at quarterback. He has 1,039 more career pass attempts than challengers Jay Butterfield and Ty Thompson combined. Nix will be reunited with new Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who held the same position at Auburn in 2019 when Nix was the SEC freshman of the year.
No. 7 Utah at Florida
The Gators welcome the defending Pacific 12 Conference champions to Gainesville for the first time since Florida's 38-29 win in 1977. It also marks the debut of new Florida head coach Billy Napier, who was 40-12 in four seasons at Louisiana, including 12-1 in 2021. Kyle Whittingham, meanwhile, has been at the helm for the Utes since Urban Meyer left for Florida after the 2004 season. The Gators aren't used to hosting a Power 5 non-conference opponent in a season opener. In fact, it hasn't happened since Steve Spurrier coached his first game at Florida against Oklahoma State in 1990. The Gators should have a better gauge on the direction of their season by the end of the game.
Florida State vs. Louisiana State
For the second straight year, Brian Kelly will open his season against Florida State. Kelly's Notre Dame team outlasted the Seminoles in overtime and will attempt to do the same with the Tigers in New Orleans. Kelly received a 10-year, $95 million contract to leave Notre Dame for LSU. But with the lofty paycheck comes lofty expectations. The last three LSU coaches led the Tigers to a national title. Can Kelly keep the streak going? It likely begins at quarterback. Kelly must choose between Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels, redshirt freshman Garrett Nussmeier and true freshman Walker Howard. There are plenty of question marks for the Seminoles entering head coach Mike Norvell's third season, but quarterback isn't one of them. Redshirt junior Jordan Travis, who starred at the Benjamin School in West Palm Beach, is a dual-threat quarterback who is often viewed more as a runner, but his accuracy improved from 55.0% in 2020 to 62.9% last fall. Drops have been an issue for the receiving corps, but Norvell is hoping the additions of four receivers via the transfer portal (including Mycah Pittman from Oregon and Johnny Wilson from Arizona State) will change Florida State's fortunes.
No. 1 Alabama at Texas
Consider this game a preview of what is to come once Texas joins the SEC. The Longhorns are entering their second season under Steve Sarkisian, who came to Texas after two seasons as Alabama's offensive coordinator, helping the Crimson Tide win a national title in 2020. Sarkisian's first year started off promising, with the Longhorns winning four of their first five games, but the six-game losing streak that followed ensured Texas of its first losing season since 2016. The last time these teams met, they were playing for the national championship at the Rose Bowl to cap the 2009 season. The Tide won 37-21, and things haven't quite been the same for Texas ever since. Texas won the offseason by securing a commitment from top-rated high school prospect Arch Manning – the nephew of retired NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning – but he won't be on campus until 2023, so the Longhorns will have to count on Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers at quarterback. Ewers beat out Hudson Card, last year's season-opening starter who was benched after a blowout loss to Arkansas. Meanwhile, reigning Heisman Memorial Trophy winner Bryce Young is back for Alabama. Young set Alabama single-season records for passing yards (4,872) and touchdowns (47) during the 2021 campaign.
No. 16 Miami at No. 6 Texas A&M
Hired away from Oregon to restore the past glories of his alma mater, Mario Cristobal will be tested early in his first road game as Miami's head coach. If the Hurricanes hope to be nationally relevant again, beating Texas A&M would be a good start. The Aggies hauled in eight five-star prospects to finish with the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in 2022. It'll help that the Hurricanes have quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who assumed the starting role when D'Eriq King went down with a season-ending injury last September and finished the season as ACC rookie of the year. LSU transfer Max Johnson is the favorite to win the starting quarterback job at Texas A&M. Johnson, who is the son of former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson, threw for 2,814 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions for the Tigers last season. Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher was 7-1 against the Hurricanes in eight seasons at Florida State, but Miami beat the Aggies 41-23 the last time the 'Canes traveled to College Station in 2008. A loss would reinforce that Cristobal still has his work cut out for him, but a win would accelerate expectations for the Miami faithful.
No. 9 Oklahoma at Nebraska
This was once one of the must-watch rivalries in college football. Nebraska and Oklahoma combined for nine national titles (five for the Cornhuskers and four for the Sooners) between 1970 and 2000. That's a far-fetched prognostication for either team in 2022, but if last year's game is any indication, it'll likely be fun to watch. Nebraska had the ball trailing 23-16 with 57 seconds remaining and no timeouts, but the Sooners sacked quarterback Adrian Martinez twice on the final drive and the Cornhuskers were unable to manage a first down. That may have sealed Martinez's fate at Nebraska. Martinez transferred to Kansas State, so the Cornhuskers welcome Texas transfer Casey Thompson as the starter. There's also a new leader at Oklahoma after head coach Lincoln Riley left for Southern California. The Sooners will be led by former Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables in 2022. The 2016 Broyles Award winner and longtime assistant coach, who spent 13 seasons serving under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, finally gets a program of his own. Nebraska is sticking with former Cornhuskers quarterback Scott Frost, but he's on shaky ground. A victory against Oklahoma could buy him some time.
No. 18 Wisconsin at No. 2 Ohio State
It's been more than a decade since the Badgers won at Ohio State. Is this the year they pull it off? Wisconsin was 9-4 last season, winning eight of its final nine games, but the Badgers dodged the Buckeyes. Although the defense was statistically among the best in college football, Wisconsin ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten Conference in scoring, total offense and passing. So head coach Paul Chryst relinquished his duties as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, hiring former Baltimore Ravens tight ends coach Bobby Engram to take over play-calling duties. Wisconsin might be the best team in the West Division, but it all hinges on the trip to Columbus, where the Badgers haven't beaten the Buckeyes since 2004.
No. 12 Oklahoma State at No. 10 Baylor
The Cowboys were inches away from a likely College Football Playoff berth before coming up short against Baylor in the Big 12 Conference Championship game. The Bears held on for a 21-16 victory – and they did it without their starting quarterback. When Gerry Bohanon went down with a hamstring injury late in the second-to-last game of the regular season, Blake Shapen stepped in, helping the Bears to beat Texas Tech and then earning MVP honors against Oklahoma State with his three touchdown passes. Shapen won the starting job in the spring, sending Bohanon packing. Although Oklahoma State beat Baylor 24-14 in the regular season last year, the Bears won when it mattered most.
No. 8 Michigan at Iowa
When Michigan travels to Iowa, it will be a rematch of the 2021 Big Ten title game, which the Wolverines won 42-3. Michigan was the surprise team of the 2021 season, winning its first seven games and outscoring its final three conference opponents 143-48 to claim its first Big Ten championship since 2004. It was the game against Iowa that convinced the playoff selection committee that the Wolverines were one of the four best teams in the country last season. Georgia spoiled the party in the semifinal at the Orange Bowl, but it didn't negate what Michigan accomplished during the season. Of course, Michigan won't be sneaking up any teams this year, especially against one of the most consistent teams in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes were surprisingly good last season as well, winning 10 games and the conference's West Division despite inconsistent play from quarterbacks Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla. After spending the entire month of September at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines will be tested on the road for the first time. It's worth noting that Iowa has won the last four meetings against Michigan in Iowa City.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama
Jimbo Fisher became the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat his old boss. Can he become the first to do it at Bryant-Denny Stadium? Alabama's head coach had won 24 consecutive games against his one-time assistants before last year's 41-38 loss at Texas A&M. But that seems like decades ago, especially after Saban sparked Fisher's furor with his offseason remarks that Texas A&M "bought every player on their team." That led Fisher to call an impromptu news conference in which he berated Saban and called him "despicable." Both coaches insist that they've put their spat behind them, but don't be surprised if the national championship-winning coaches don't exchange pleasantries before this year's game. Where's the popcorn?
No. 9 Oklahoma vs. Texas
Could this be the final "Red River Showdown" as Big 12 opponents? Texas and Oklahoma are lame ducks just biding their time before joining the SEC. In the meantime, these border rivals would like nothing better than to close out their Big 12 tenure by beating up on each other in Dallas. Oklahoma has won seven of the last eight meetings, including last year's 55-48 victory. The Sooners rallied from a 21-point first-quarter deficit to outlast the Longhorns in the highest-scoring game in the history of the rivalry. But the two Oklahoma quarterbacks who played in that game have since transferred, leaving Dillon Gabriel to lead the Sooners. The Central Florida transfer will reunite with new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who coached Gabriel in 2019. Texas has a real opportunity to take advantage of the upheaval within Oklahoma's program, especially with the return of Bijan Robinson, who is arguably one of the best running backs in the country. Robinson ran all over the Sooners a year ago, carrying the ball 20 times for 137 yards and a touchdown.
No. 4 Clemson at Florida State
Remember when this game used to decide the ACC Atlantic Division? For the better part of a decade, the two best teams in the ACC took up residence in the same division. From 2009-19, the winner of this game went on to win the division – and, ultimately, the ACC crown for the final nine of those 11 seasons. It also essentially made Clemson-Florida State the ACC's de facto title game. That won't matter after this season when divisions are scrapped in favor of the top two teams in the final ACC standings. But, for now, this game could once again eliminate the loser from championship contention. The last time the Tigers traveled to Tallahassee in 2020, the teams didn't play after COVID-19 concerns led to the game's cancellation just hours before kickoff. Florida State fans will be hungry for a victory, especially after letting a fourth-quarter lead slip away in last year's 30-20 loss. The Seminoles haven't beaten Clemson since hanging on for a 23-17 overtime win in 2014.
Iowa at No. 2 Ohio State
Iowa won big the last time these teams met, with the Hawkeyes disposing of the Buckeyes 55-24 at Kinnick Stadium in 2017. But these Hawkeyes weren't alive when Iowa last won in Columbus. The year was 1991 and the score was 16-9. It was only Iowa's second win against the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium since 1959. As the dean of college football, Kirk Ferentz is entering his 24th season as head coach at Iowa. He has a 110-79 record against Big Ten opponents, but his record against Ohio State is just 2-8. Iowa fans probably aren't expecting a victory, but it might not matter. These teams could meet again in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.
No. 15 Michigan State at No. 8 Michigan
Michigan State's Mel Tucker is 2-0 versus Michigan's Jim Harbaugh. That's not a misprint. Tucker's reward for last season's 37-33 victory and 11-2 finish was a $95 million contract extension through 2031. Propelling the Spartans to victory was Kenneth Walker III, who ran for 197 yards and five touchdowns, but last year's Doak Walker Award winner has moved on to the NFL. Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne threw for a school-record 27 touchdowns last season, but none of them came against the Wolverines. Thorne also had two interceptions in last year's game, so he'll have to cut down on the turnovers to help Tucker make it three in a row against Harbaugh's Wolverines. That shouldn't be hard with All-American all-purpose player Jayden Reed to throw to again. Reed caught 10 touchdown passes last season and led the team with 59 receptions.
Florida vs. No. 3 Georgia
Remember when Florida used to own Georgia? Those days are over. The Gators were 13-1 against the Bulldogs from 1990-2003, but Florida and Georgia have split the games at nine wins each in the 18 years since. Four of Georgia's wins have come in the last five seasons, including the 34-7 beating the Bulldogs handed Florida a year ago. The future of this border rivalry being played in Jacksonville, Florida, seems to be in doubt after Georgia head coach Kirby Smart publicly questioned whether the neutral-site game is a recruiting disadvantage. When asked about it during SEC media days in July, Napier withheld judgment until he's had a chance to experience it for himself. The game is locked in through 2023, but don't be surprised to see it return to campus beyond next year if Smart gets his way.
No. 4 Clemson at No. 5 Notre Dame
Only on WPTV, 7:30 p.m.
Clemson and Notre Dame split the last two meetings, both coming during the 2020 season. Aside from the pandemic making for an unusual year of college football, nowhere was this more noticeable than at Notre Dame, which relinquished its independence for a season to play a true ACC schedule. That included a November date against Clemson at Notre Dame Stadium, which the Irish won 47-40 while star quarterback Trevor Lawrence was sidelined with COVID-19. Notre Dame finished atop the ACC standings but couldn't withstand the Tigers in the conference title game rematch, falling 34-10 with Lawrence back in action. There will be no Lawrence or ACC championship on the line this year, but it might serve as an elimination game when it comes to deciding the playoff teams.
Florida State at No. 16 Miami
Miami fans aren't likely to forget the phrase "fourth and 14." The Seminoles snapped a four-game losing streak to Miami in last season's 31-28 victory. That's after they blew a 20-7 halftime lead and trailed by eight in the fourth quarter. Then Jordan Travis endeared himself to the FSU faithful in the waning minutes of the game. Travis completed a fourth-and-14 pass with less than a minute remaining to give the Seminoles a fresh set of downs at Miami's 1-yard line and then crossed the end zone two plays later for the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left. The win improved FSU to 11-7 against Miami since the Hurricanes joined the ACC in 2004. After starting the season 2-4, Miami went 5-1 down the stretch, with its lone loss to the Seminoles. The Hurricanes will be hungry for payback at Hard Rock Stadium.
Boston College at No. 5 Notre Dame
Only on WPTV, 2:30 p.m.
Notre Dame has realistic national championship aspirations this season, but Boston College has been known to play the role of spoiler in the past. The Eagles have twice beaten previously undefeated Notre Dame at home (in 1993 and 2002). Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec is back for his third season at Boston College. Jurkovec missed eight games with a wrist injury last year but enters the season healthy. New offensive coordinator John McNulty also comes from Notre Dame, where he coached tight ends the last two years. Jurkovec's top target in 2022 will be receiver Zay Flowers, who has caught 100 passes for 1,638 yards and 14 touchdown since 2020. For all these reasons, the Eagles stand a reasonable chance of upsetting Notre Dame, which has won seven straight dating to 2009.
No. 12 Oklahoma State at No. 9 Oklahoma
Oklahoma State's 37-33 victory over Oklahoma last season knocked the Sooners out of Big 12 championship contention, ending a streak of six straight conference titles. Entering his 18th season at Oklahoma State, Mike Gundy is the dean of Big 12 head coaches, but he's only got one conference championship trophy to show for it. The Cowboys came close to making it two for Gundy last season, but Baylor was the belle of the ball instead. Spencer Sanders returns for a fourth season as Gundy's starting quarterback, although his leading receiver and top running back are gone. What will become of "Bedlam" once Oklahoma ditches the Cowboys for the SEC? Gundy seemed to think it will end when the Sooners say goodbye to the Big 12. "The future of Bedlam is there's a year or two left," Gundy told reporters in July. "I mean, that's the future of Bedlam, based on somebody else's decision."
No. 7 Utah at No. 11 Oregon
This is a rematch of last year's Pac-12 title game. Utah pounded the Ducks twice last season. The 38-7 rout in Salt Lake City ended Oregon's playoff aspirations, while the 38-10 beating in Las Vegas gave the Utes their first Pac-12 championship in school history. They're poised to win it again in 2022. Utah quarterback Cameron Rising and running back Tavion Thomas are back for another season. Rising threw for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, while Thomas combined for 157 yards and five touchdowns in both games against Oregon.
No. 16 Miami at No. 4 Clemson
Miami and Clemson are favorites to win their divisions and play for the ACC championship. The last time that happened, it didn't go so well for the Hurricanes. Of course, 2017 was two coaches ago for Miami. That was in the time of "B.C." – before Cristobal. No matter the coach, winning at Clemson isn't easy. Clemson owns the nation's longest winning streak and has won 55 of 56 games dating to November 2013. Arguably the biggest question mark for Clemson is quarterback play. DJ Uiagalelei will need to show improvement if he wants to keep his job in 2022. He threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 starts last season. Dabo Swinney has shown he's not afraid to make a mid-season change at quarterback before. If Uiagalelei struggles again, top prospect Cade Klubnik will be ready to take his spot.
No. 14 Southern California at UCLA
Both flagship institutions of the Pac-12 (once known as the Pacific 8 Conference) are bolting for the Big Ten in 2024. That gives these Los Angeles-based rivals two years left to win another Pac-12 championship. Neither team has won the conference since the inception of the championship game in 2011, although each has won the South Division and played in the game on more than one occasion. It's conceivable both teams could play for the Pac-12 crown this season under the revised championship game structure, which scraps divisions in favor of the two teams with the highest conference winning percentage. USC may be getting all the attention recently, but UCLA is sneakily improving under Chip Kelly. Dual-threat playmaker Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been the starting quarterback since 2018, but his breakout season came in 2021, when he passed for 21 touchdowns and rushed for nine scores with 609 yards. He will reteam with leading rusher Zach Charbonnet, who gained 1,137 yards on the ground and scored 13 touchdowns. USC shouldn't sleep on the Bruins, especially after last year's 62-33 blowout at the Los Angeles Coliseum. UCLA's 62 points tied the record for the most ever allowed by the Trojans.
Florida at Florida State
Florida returns to Tallahassee for the first time since 2018. It's hard to believe that it's been four years since this heated state rivalry has been played in the capital city. The 2020 game was a casualty of COVID-19, marking the first year since 1957 that the Gators and Seminoles didn't play each other. The Gators have a new ball coach in Billy Napier, whom FSU fans might remember spurned the Seminoles in 2013, when he spent less than a month as tight ends coach under Jimbo Fisher before leaving to coach receivers at Alabama instead. Fisher was still coaching in Tallahassee when the Seminoles last beat Florida. This will be the first Friday game between the Gators and Seminoles since 1979.
No. 8 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State
Was last year's game a swing of the pendulum or just a fluke? The Buckeyes will be out to prove it was the latter. The Wolverines finally beat the Buckeyes last season after losing eight in a row and 15 of 16 dating to 2004. Michigan ran all over Ohio State in the 42-27 win and took advantage of 10 turnovers by the Buckeyes. Next for Michigan is learning to beat the Buckeyes away from home. The Wolverines haven't won in Columbus since 2000.
Auburn at No. 1 Alabama
Last year's "Iron Bowl" gave college football fans something they hadn't seen in the history of this storied rivalry – overtime. Well, more like four of them. Alabama defeated Auburn 24-22 in a four-overtime game that ended when Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young connected with receiver John Metchie III on a 2-point conversion. The Tigers, who had the ball first in the fourth overtime, failed to convert. After allowing seven sacks and committing 11 penalties, Alabama trailed 10-3 with 1:43 remaining when the Tide drove 97 yards for the game-tying touchdown.