The end of the college football season is a bittersweet time for fans across the nation. Despite an exciting year and a new national champion, Georgia's victory over Alabama ensures a wait of over seven months before the next CFB campaign begins.
In the meantime, here are five tantalizing non-conference matchups worth waiting for, ranked by team quality, history, and importance. The 2022-23 season can't come soon enough!
Notre Dame at Ohio State - September 3rd
What could be better than two iconic brands battling at The Shoe to kick off the season? In what could be a showdown between two top-5 ranked programs, Marcus Freeman begins his tenure as Notre Dame's head coach (Fiesta Bowl debacle aside) against Ryan Day's Buckeyes.
Both teams are expected to return a great deal of NFL-quality talent, giving them two of the more experienced rosters in the nation. The Irish made major strides down the stretch, and stability on the offensive and defensive lines were a main reason why. The big question will be the fit of freshman Tyler Buchner, the projected starter at quarterback next fall. Another point of intrigue in this one is Marcus Freeman's hiring of former OSU coach Al Washington as the Irish's new defensive line coach.
As for OSU, they'll welcome back Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud along with a predictably loaded supporting cast following a slightly disappointing 11-2 year. This game will likely come down to how a new-look Notre Dame secondary post-Kyle Hamilton deals with the nation's best wide receiver trio in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jackson Smith-Njigba.
Utah at Florida - September 3rd
This battle of former Urban Meyer employers is also a contrast between two programs in polar opposite positions. The Utah Utes have become a model of consistency under head coach Kyle Whittingham, making the Pac-12 championship in three of the past four seasons. In January, they nearly upset Ohio State in the Rose Bowl en route to a #12th ranked 10-4 season.
The situation was much bleaker in Gainesville last year. Florida looked like an SEC contender following a hard-fought 31-29 defeat against Alabama, but just about everything fell apart from there. The Gators went 4-6 for the rest of the year, capped off by the late season firing of head coach Dan Mullen and a loss to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl. Mullen's replacement, former Louisiana coach Billy Napier, faces a tall task in rebuilding Florida to their former glory. Taking out the reigning Pac-12 champions in front of a fanbase starving for some success at The Swamp would be a great way to kickstart this rebuild.
Georgia vs. Oregon - September 3rd
Sometimes, narratives write themselves. In his first game as a head coach, former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning will head to Atlanta to face his former boss Kirby Smart in a de-facto home game for the Bulldogs. Fresh off a national title run carried largely by Georgia's dominant defense, it will be fascinating to see what Lanning does to slow down Stetson Bennett and the rest of UGA's dynamic offense.
As far as Oregon's roster, it's hard to tell what kind of team we'll see this year in Eugene. Gone are head coach Mario Cristobal, who bolted for his alma matter Miami, and defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, a likely top-3 pick in this year's NFL Draft. The Ducks also have one of the nation's most intriguing quarterback rooms; Auburn transfer Bo Nix will compete this spring with former four-star recruits Jay Butterfield and Ty Thompson for the starting job. If Nix does win the starting job, his lack of success against the Dawgs is slightly concerning; he's winless in three games vs. Georgia, tossing just one touchdown to go along with two interceptions.
West Virginia at Pittsburgh - September 3rd
This one is pretty straightforward: for the first time in over a decade, the Backyard Brawl is back. Pittsburgh and West Virginia, separated from each other by a mere 75 miles, will renew their storied rivalry at Heinz Field this September. With over one hundred meetings between the two, fans on both sides will be pleased to see a matchup with such tradition return to college football.
As far as recent success, Pitt just completed one of the better seasons in program history. Quarterback Kenny Pickett led the team to an ACC Championship while being named a Heisman finalist, a major boost for a school that had gone twelve years without double-digit wins. With his departure for the NFL, the team will hope that USC transfer Kedon Slovis can unlock his high potential.
West Virginia went through a mediocre 6-7 campaign under third year head coach Neal Brown, who has a subpar 17-18 record in Morgantown. It's fair to say next season is make-or-break for Brown, and he'll be without Jarret Doege, last year's starting quarterback. As it stands right now, Brown will be relying on a QB room with minimal experience, which is never a great sign. A defense that ranked 45th in the nation in points allowed per game will need to carry the Mountaineers in 2022. With two teams that have major question marks at the sport's most important position, picking a winner in this brawl is easier said than done.
Alabama at Texas - September 1oth
The only game on the list not to take place during opening week, Alabama-Texas is a showdown between historic blue-bloods. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian will be tasked with taking down Nick Saban; Sarkisian served as 'Bama's offensive coordinator in 2016 as well as 2019 and 2020.
Unfortunately for Texas, the comparisons between these two programs stop there. The Longhorns were an abject failure last season, going from ranked in the preseason AP Poll to a 5-7 finish, including a demoralizing loss at home against 2-win Kansas. With that being said, there is plenty of buzz this season (when isn't there for Texas?) over the arrival of Quinn Ewers, a former five-star quarterback who transferred from Ohio State this year. Couple that with the return of running back Bijan Robinson and the addition of former Alabama tight end Jahleel Billingsley, and it's easy to see this offense being one of the Big 12's best.
Alabama's story is straightforward; another run to the national title game ended in heartbreak against Georgia, giving Tide fans a rare feeling of defeat heading into the offseason. However, there are plenty of reasons to assume the never-ending 'Bama dynasty will continue to find success in 2022. Bryce Young is coming off a Heisman-winning year in his first season as a starter. While there will be some notable departures, such as John Metchie, Slade Bolden, Jameson Williams, and Billingsley, we've seen Saban restock this roster time and time again. With the nation's second-best recruiting class, expect another season at the top of the SEC.
In this pedigree vs. potential matchup, it will be up to Texas' mediocre defense to keep Bryce Young in check. While that seems unlikely, at the very least fans should be able to see Sarkisian, Ewers and the Longhorn offense put to the test against one of the nation's most formidable front sevens. Even in defeat, a solid effort against an elite opponent should have Texas feeling good about their chances at contending in the Big 12 next season.
Honorable Mentions: Penn St. at Auburn, Miami at Texas A&M, Oklahoma at Nebraska, Cincinnati at Arkansas, Baylor at BYU