Week 1 of the college football season is fast approaching, setting up what promises to be an exciting 2022 schedule of impactful games across the country.
And getting off to a good start is more important now than ever before, with several playoff contenders kicking off against quality opponents in meaningful games.
One big rivalry returns to the schedule while we’ll also see a few interesting non-conference games kicking off that will have an effect on the CFP title race.
What are the best games on tap for opening weekend?
All times Eastern
West Virginia at (17) Pittsburgh
When: Sept. 1 | 7 p.m. | ESPN
Line: Pittsburgh -7
FPI pick: Pittsburgh 78.1%
Why you should watch: To see one of college football’s more intense local rivalries get back on the field after a decade, and with two intriguing transfer quarterbacks squaring off: J.T. Daniels for West Virginia and Pitt’s Kedon Slovis.
Daniels is a former 5-star prospect on his third school after stops at USC and Georgia, and he’ll have some good perimeter speed to work with in an aggressive downfield passing attack. Slovis steps in for record-breaker Kenny Pickett, but he’ll have to develop this offense without Biletnikoff receiver Jordan Addison, who transferred to USC this offseason.
(11) Oregon vs. (3) Georgia
When: Sept. 3 | 3:30 p.m. | ABC
Line: Georgia -17.5
FPI pick: Georgia 91.5%
Why you should watch: It’s no secret the College Football Playoff selectors don’t hold the Pac-12 in very high regard, so a good showing for Oregon in this game against not just an SEC team, but the defending national champion, can go a long way in resuscitating the league’s reputation.
That means new Ducks head coach Dan Lanning must get the most out of a promising defensive group going against the Bulldogs’ elite skill targets while hoping Auburn transfer quarterback Bo Nix can get behind a Georgia defense that will be debuting some new pieces.
(23) Cincinnati at (19) Arkansas
When: Sept. 3 | 3:30 p.m. | ESPN
Line: Arkansas -6.5
FPI pick: Arkansas 59.6%
Why you should watch: Cincinnati made history as the first non-Power 5 school to make the College Football Playoff, going undefeated before getting rolled by Alabama. That already got the “overrated” label slapped on UC, and now the team loses nine key pieces to the NFL, making a road game against a ranked SEC team vital to keeping it relevant in future.
Arkansas was arguably the surprise team in college football last season, beating Texas and winning nine games. KJ Jefferson returns at quarterback to spearhead the Hogs’ attack, which includes OU transfer wideout Jadon Hazelwood. Winning non-conference games like this is a key building block before starting the SEC slate.
(7) Utah at Florida
When: Sept. 3 | 7 p.m. | ESPN
Line: Utah -2.5
FPI pick: Florida 52.1%
Why you should watch: Yes, Florida is an unproven commodity as it opens Year 1 under Billy Napier, but this game is crucial for the Utes in gaining national respect: SEC speed is a real thing, even on subpar teams, and Utah needs to be faster than the Gators in this early test in order to build any credible playoff credentials.
Napier is debuting a roster loaded with potential, but short on results thanks to a few years of below-average recruiting. Putting on a good show against the defending Pac-12 champs and a top 10 team is vital for Napier to squash any early criticism of his tenure.
(5) Notre Dame at (2) Ohio State
When: Sept. 3 | 7:30 p.m. | ABC
Line: Ohio State -15.5
FPI pick: Ohio State 83.5%
Why you should watch: A game between two top-5 teams at night in the Horseshoe is appointment viewing for any college football fan, with two playoff contenders facing off early under the lights in a matchup that will go a long way in shaping the final College Football Playoff rankings.
Most analysts, bettors, and bookmakers see the Irish starting 0-1 here, but don’t forget the Buckeyes are beatable at home in recent memory: Texas in 2005, USC in 2009, Michigan State in 2015, Oklahoma in 2017, and Oregon in 2021 all spring to mind. OSU even lost to unranked Virginia Tech at the ‘Shoe the year it won the first CFP title.
Florida State vs. LSU
When: Sept. 4 | 7:30 p.m. | ABC
Line: LSU -3
FPI pick: LSU 71.0%
Why you should watch: Brian Kelly caused a seismic shift in college football when he bolted Notre Dame for LSU, setting himself up for quite the rebuild as he looks ahead to the always-brutal SEC West schedule in the nation’s toughest division.
Before that, his Tigers square off with another big-time program down on its luck: the Seminoles have won eight games in two years under Mike Norvell, but return quarterback Jordan Travis, who showed real flashes last fall and can work the deep field if given the chance.