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Chris’ Fantasy

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 01: TreVeyon Henderson #32 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the ball during a 48-45 Ohio State Buckeyes win at Rose Bowl on January 01, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The 2022 College Football season is right around the corner, and the non-conference portion of the schedule plays a big part in our perception of who is good, and who just plays in a weak conference. Here are the 10 games that will shape that perception, and how wins for each team will shape our view of the 2022 regular season.

The SEC is involved in a lot of these games, but that’s because the nation’s top conference has dominated non-conference games early in the year, the bowl season, and the 2022 College Football Playoff. There are plenty of opportunities for other conference to jump up and take the mantle the SEC has held of well over a decade as the best in college football. Miami will get a crack and Texas A&M, Notre Dame has a couple of marquee matchups that can get them into the Playoff, FSU and Oregon go into SEC territory for “neutral site” matchups, and the Utes can announced themselves week 1 against the Gators.

 

  • 10. Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (week 2):

    Pitt was one of the surprise teams of 2021, but the departure of Kenny Pickett leaves a big hole in the Panthers offense, but one that USC transfer Kedon Slovis should be able to fill. On the other side, Tennessee will be looking to avenge their loss to Pitt last year on home soil. If Tennessee wants to be back, they need to win this game.

    Kedon Slovis

    LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 30: Kedon Slovis #9 of the USC Trojans warms up on the sidelines during the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • 9. Utah @ Florida (week 1):

    The Utah Utes are year-in year-out one of the most underrated programs in the country. The Utes played in the game of the bowl season last year against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, and with a backup quarterback almost pulled off the upset. First year Florida coach Billy Napier has a stud a quarterback in Anthony Richardson, who will finally take over as the full time starter in Gainesville this season. The PAC-12 would love a win over the SEC, while a win for the Gators would be another shot across the bow of the PAC-12.

    Anthony Richardson

    GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 27: Anthony Richardson #15 of the Florida Gators celebrates after defeating the Florida State Seminoles 24-21 in a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

     

  • 8. Penn St. @ Auburn (week 3):

    The first leg of this home-and-home series was an epic 28-20 win for the Nittany Lions last year in a White Out. Both teams started off 2021 looking to be elite teams, but both team faltered down the stretch. Auburn lost their final 5 games of the season, including a heartbreaker to Alabama in the Iron Bowl, while Penn State lost 6 of their final 8 games after starting the season 5-0. The winner here will feel like 2021 is in the rearview mirror, while the loser might fall into a tailspin after another loss.

    penn statte auburn

    STATE COLLEGE, PA – SEPTEMBER 18: Sean Clifford #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions throws a pass to Jahan Dotson #5 for a touchdown during the first half at Beaver Stadium on September 18, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

  • 7. Notre Dame @ USC (week 13):

    This is always a premier matchup, and one of the sports best “jersey games”. Both programs are heading into the season with first year head coaches, but the expectations in South Bend and Los Angeles are always playoff or bust. A win for Notre Dame would likely mean a New Year’s Six bowl game at worst, while a win for the Trojans would give Lincoln Riley a signature win his first season at Southern Cal.

    notre dame

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA – JANUARY 01: Notre Dame Fighting Irish mascot “The Leprechaun” performs during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cowboys defeated the Fighting Irish 37-35. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • 6. FSU v. LSU (week 1):

    This game will be held at The Super Dome, so even though it’s a “neutral site” this should feel like a home game for the Tigers. A win for LSU would get the Brian Kelly era off to a great start, and should set them up for a 4-0 start before a matchup with Auburn in week 5. Florida State is desperate for a signature win under Mike Norvell. Good news for the Noles is they get a “tune-up” game week 0 against Duquesne.

    Mike Norvell

    CHESTNUT HILL, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 20: Head coach Mike Norvell of the Florida State Seminoles reacts with an official after Jammie Robinson #10 of the Florida State Seminoles was ejected for targeting during the first half against the Boston College Eagles at Alumni Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

  • 5. Notre Dame @ Clemson (week 10):

    This should be an ACC game, so let’s get that out of the way. There was a false narrative going around Clemson in 2021 that the program fell off a cliff. They were 10-3 with a bowl win over Iowa State, and their 3 losses were to Georgia in a game where they gave up 10 points, a double OT loss at NC State, and held Pitt to a season low of 27-points in a 10 point loss. They will once again be at the top of the college football world. Notre Dame should enter this game with just 1 loss (we will get to that game later), so this game could be a playoff game where they winner is very much in the Playoff and the loser is on the outside looking in.

    Clemson

    ORLANDO, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 29: K.J. Henry #5 of the Clemson Tigers reacts with teammate Justin Mascoll #7 during the fourth quarter against the Iowa State Cyclones in the Cheez-It Bowl Game at Camping World Stadium on December 29, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • 4. Miami @ Texas A&M (week 3):

    These are two programs with a ton of momentum. Miami with first year head coach Mario Cristobol (check out his new mansion) and returning starting QB Tyler Van Dyke have ACC Championship aspirations. A&M has rattled off 4 consecutive top-8 classes, including the #1 class of the most recent recruiting cycle. Quarterback Haynes King is back after his freshman season was cut short due to injury. A win for the Canes, and they have the biggest win since they beat Notre Dame at the end of the 2018 season. A win for the A&M means Jimbo and the Aggies are for real and Bama better watch out. 

    Haynes King

    DENVER, CO – SEPTEMBER 11: Haynes King #13 of the Texas A&M Aggies warms up before playing the Colorado Buffaloes at Empower Field At Mile High on September 11, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

     

     

  • 3. Oregon v. Georgia (week 1):

    Credit where credit is due; Oregon is not afraid of anyone. They have routinely played blue-blood programs to start their season (Auburn in 2019 and Ohio State in 2021- Ohio State was schedule for 2020, but COVID happened). This year they get the defending national champions in their own back yard to start the season with the game being played in Atlanta. Georgia lost a ton (15 players drafted) on both offense and defense, but much like Alabama and Ohio State, this program will fill those holes left with 5-star recruits and future NFL players. A Ducks win will elevate the entire PAC-12 and give the conference a huge win. A win for the Dawgs and we might have to deem them Bama 2.0.

    georgia

    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – JANUARY 10: Georgia Bulldogs players celebrate after the Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide 33-18 in the 2022 CFP National Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

     

  • 2. Notre Dame @ Ohio State (week 1):

    Can there be a more difficult start for 1st year head coach Marcus Freeman? Ohio State is returning Heisman Hopeful QB CJ Stroud, a pair of wide receivers that combined for 21 receptions, 418 yards, and 6 TD’s in Rose Bowl victory, and virtually their entire coaching staff under Ryan Day. The Fighting Irish have turned themselves into one of the most consistent programs in the country, with 10 or more wins in 5 consecutive seasons. This is a very tough spot for the Touchdown Jesus’s.

    CJ Stroud

    PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 01: C.J. Stroud #7 of the Ohio State Buckeyes throws a pass against the Utah Utes during the first quarter in the Rose Bowl Game at Rose Bowl Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

     

  • 1. Alabama @ Texas (week 2):

    The story lines are plenty for this game: Sark vs. Saban, Texas back?, Bryce Love Heisman campaign, Texas tasting SEC play early, does Bama reload, Quinn Ewers or Hudson Card under center for the Longhorns, etc. you get the point. Bama under the lights in Austin has a similar feel to 2019 when Joe Burrow announced himself to the world in a comeback win. A win for Texas, and nobody will question if Texas is back, they become an immediate National Championship contender. A win for Bama means more of the same domination for college football, Bryce Young is the Heisman favorite, and the Tide have a little wiggle room in SEC play. Oh yeah- I almost forgot about Arch Manning’s recruitment and how the outcome could sway the nations #1 High School quarterback’s decision.

    Bryce Young

    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – JANUARY 10: Bryce Young #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Georgia Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)