It’s never too soon to look at the best games of the opening weekend of the 2022 season
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It’s never too soon to look at the best games of the opening weekend of the 2022 season

Mike Huguenin01/27/22
Article written by:Mike HugueninMike Huguenin

MikeHuguenin

DayFreeman
(Photos of Ryan Day and Marcus Freeman/Getty Images)

First, some good news: Seven months from today, on August 27, the 2022 college football season begins.

Now, the bad news: That’s still 212 days away.

Week 0, which happens August 27, isn’t exactly filled with must-see games. Indeed, the best is Nebraska-Northwestern — in Dublin. The locale means the winning team’s fans can drink up in anticipation of a good season. The flipside: The locale means the losing team’s fans can drink up in order to dull the pain of what they witnessed.

The real action begins the next weekend, on September 4, the true opening weekend of the season (and that’s just 205 days away). The opening weekend of the 2002 season has a bunch of good games. A bunch.

Here are the 10 best of that first weekend.

10. North Carolina at Appalachian State
The buzz: The post-Sam Howell era at UNC begins with the Tar Heels visiting App State for the first time ever. Heck, this will be just the third time the schools have met, and the first of those was in 1940. They also met in 2019, when three Tar Heels turnovers helped the Mountaineers to a 34-31 win. That was the fourth start of Howell’s career — and the first time he threw a pick in a UNC uniform. App State again should be a Sun Belt contender. UNC, meanwhile, was a big disappointment in 2021, and who knows what to expect in ’22?

9. Houston at UTSA
The buzz: Each finished 12-2 in 2021, but both lost some star players. Still, both programs seem to be in good shape overall, so this is an intriguing Group of 5 matchup. And consider that because Houston is leaving for the Big 12 soon, it already has been announced that UTSA leaving Conference USA for the AAC. The question is when both of those things happen.

8. Army at Coastal Carolina
The buzz:
Both teams like to run the ball — Army with the triple option, Coastal with its creative shotgun-based option offense. The difference is Coastal also airs it out, and in Grayson McCall, the Chanticleers will have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks next season. App State is a Sun Belt East Division rival of Coastal’s, so this game and App State’s with UNC means the first Saturday of the 2022 season offers the division a chance for some noteworthy wins.

7. Penn State at Purdue
The buzz: Opening the season with a conference game is a bit dicey because a loss puts the loser behind the eight ball right out of the game. This Big Ten matchup features a team that was a surprise (Purdue) and another (Penn State) that was a disappointment in 2021. Both return their starting quarterbacks, and the Nittany Lions’ Sean Clifford figures to have better surrounding talent than the Boilermakers’ Aidan O’Connell (hey, he’d be a fan favorite in Dublin, for sure). The lingering question for Penn State: Will the offensive line be improved in 2022? If not, expect more disappointment.

6. West Virginia at Pitt
The buzz:
The “Backyard Brawl” resumes after a 10-year hiatus, and that gives this a little extra cachet. The schools, located about 75 miles apart, played annually from 1943-2011; the ’22 game is the first of a four-year contract (2022-25). On the field, both teams will be breaking in new quarterbacks — and new offensive coordinators. It’s unlikely either will be a title contender in their respective conferences. But opening the season with some good old-fashioned hate is cool.

5. Utah at Florida
The buzz: This will be the first game for new Gators coach Billy Napier. Kyle Whittingham, meanwhile, will be kicking off his 18th season with the Utes. Whittingham replaced Urban Meyer as Utah’s coach after the 2004 season, when Meyer left for Florida. Counting Meyer, Napier is the fifth Gators coach since then. Utah will return an experienced and physical team; the Gators, right now, are a mystery. One for-sure advantage for Florida: It will be blistering hot, and the Gators presumably will be more accustomed to that type of weather. (An aside: On the same day, USF is hosting BYU, so two teams from Utah will be trying to cope with Florida’s humidity.)

4. Florida State vs. LSU in New Orleans (Sunday the 5th)
The buzz: Brian Kelly’s first game as Tigers coach will come against a Seminoles program trying to regain its footing. FSU has suffered through four consecutive losing seasons — the first time that has happened since 1973-76 (1976 was Bobby Bowden’s first season). LSU, meanwhile, is coming off its first losing season since 1999, the season before Nick Saban’s arrival. There are questions about the overall talent level on both rosters. One positive for LSU is that this basically will be a home game.

3. Cincinnati at Arkansas
The buzz: This game was agreed to in August 2019, and even though that’s not that long ago, it’s doubtful then that either side knew how big this game could be. Cincinnati was the first Group of 5 team to qualify for the College Football Playoff, and though it’s unlikely the Bearcats will be as good in 2022 as they were in 2021, they still figure to be formidable. As for Arkansas, the Hogs were … well, they were pitiful in 2019, finishing 2-10. But they will open the 2022 season in the top 20 — and maybe even the top 10 — thanks to the return of QB K.J. Jefferson. The secondary looks as if will be the biggest issue for Arkansas.

2. Georgia vs. Oregon in Atlanta
The buzz: The first game for new Ducks coach Dan Lanning comes against his former employer in a “neutral-site game” that basically is a home contest for Georgia. The quarterback storyline figures to be a huge deal; former Auburn starter Bo Nix could be Oregon’s QB1, and Georgia’s Stetson Bennett has decided to return for his “super senior” season.

1. Notre Dame at Ohio State
The buzz: This will be just the sixth meeting in history between these storied programs; it’ll be first overall since the Fiesta Bowl following the 2015 season and the first in the regular season since 1996. It’ll also be the first regular-season game as coach for Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman, and we’re sure Buckeyes fans will make the Ohio State alum feel welcome. Ohio State’s offense figures to be one of the best in the nation again; the Irish will be breaking in a new starting quarterback.