The 2021 college football season concluded with Georgia’s 33-18 win over Alabama in the CFP championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
So, who is ready for 2022?
One look at the best September nonconference matchups for 2022 should increase that offseason hype. Sporting News continues its tradition of picking the 10 best games in the first month. In that regard, 2021 did not disappoint.
The theme for next year? New coaches. A total of six schools on this list have a new coach that will try to make a strong first impression. That includes Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman, LSU’s Brian Kelly and Miami’s Mario Cristobal.
TROCCHI: Grading the new hires
September will provide those opportunities. This list features home-and-home series and neutral-site blockbusters. With that in mind, the 10 best September games we can’t wait for:
Best 2021 September nonconference matchups
1. Notre Dame at Ohio State (Sept. 3)
Former Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman will coach in his first regular season game at Notre Dame at his alma mater. This is a guaranteed top-10, perhaps top-five matchup, between two premier programs. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud will be among the Heisman Trophy front-runners, but Notre Dame returns enough offensive talent that this should be interesting. The Buckeyes have won the last four meetings, and this is the first home-and-home series since 1994-95. It is worth the wait.
2. Oregon vs. Georgia (Sept. 3) at Atlanta
Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning left to take the Oregon job, and his first game is against the Bulldogs at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. Lanning has assembled a big-time coaching staff, too. This is the biggest non-conference game for the Pac-12, and it’s also a virtual home game for Georgia.
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3. Alabama at Texas (Sept. 10)
This is a huge Week 2 matchup. The schools haven’t met since the 2010 BCS championship game; the first national title Nick Saban won at Alabama. What will Texas look like if five-star quarterback Quinn Ewers is the starter? Bijan Robinsion is back, too. Can former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian keep it close? Alabama will be the preseason No. 1 across most polls. Book-mark this matchup for prime time.
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4. Florida State vs. LSU (Sept. 4) at New Orleans
Both teams had losing records in 2021, so the pressure to get a victory here will be immense. Brian Kelly will make his debut with LSU in New Orleans, and the Tigers should bring back enough talent to be in the top-15 to start the season. Florida State has improved under Mike Norvell, but they are 0-6 in September the last two seasons.
5. Penn State at Auburn (Sept. 17)
There were some questionable calls in last year’s Big Ten-SEC matchup at Beaver Stadium, which Penn State won 28-20. Quarterback Sean Clifford is returning for a sixth season for the Nittany Lions, which extended James Franklin. The Tigers are on the spot after a 6-7 season in Year 1 under Bryan Harsin, and quarterback will be the leading topic of conversation this offseason. Will this be a prime-time kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium?
6. Oklahoma at Nebraska (Sept. 17)
Oklahoma beat Nebraska 23-16 in 2021 in a tightly-contested matchup in Norman. Who faces more pressure in the rematch, the first OU-NU battle in Lincoln since 2009? Scott Frost and the Huskers have endured back-to-back three-win seasons, but the Huskers were amazingly competitive for a 3-9 team in 2021. Oklahoma is entering a new chapter with first-year coach Brent Venables and still gearing up for the move to the SEC. Expect another close one.
7. Utah at Florida (Sept. 3)
Utah won the Pac-12 championship and lost a Rose Bowl thriller this season, and Kyle Whittingham continues to build the program in methodical fashion. Florida is pressing the reset button with coach Billy Napier, and this is anything but a walk-over opponent at The Swamp. Utah has a better record in the CFP era.
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8. Tennessee at Pitt (Sept. 10)
Pitt beat Tennessee 41-34 with the help of a 27-point second quarter in the opener of a home-and-home series. The Panthers used that as a springboard to an ACC championship. USC transfer Kedon Slovis could be the starter against the Vols, who will look to build on a promising first year under coach Josh Heupel.
9. Miami at Texas A&M (Sept. 17)
New coach Mario Cristobal will have tune-ups against Bethune-Cookman and Southern Miss before this road trip, which will be an excellent barometer for the Hurricanes. The Aggies have built through excellent recruiting classes under Jimbo Fisher, but now the pressure is on to deliver an SEC championship. These teams haven’t met since 2008.
10. Cincinnati at Arkansas (Sept. 3)
Cincinnati made the CFP with the help of a road victory at Notre Dame in 2021. The big game next season is a trip to Fayetteville, where the Razorbacks are coming off a 9-4 breakthrough season. The Bearcats are 6-36-1 all time against SEC schools, and half of those victories are against Kentucky. If UC wants to stay in the playoff conversation, then a win here is necessary.
Arizona State at Oklahoma State (Sept. 10)
Baylor at BYU (Sept. 10)
Michigan State at Washington (Sept. 17)
Notre Dame at North Carolina (Sept. 24)