The five-month feast is about ready to hit the table, piping hot. Preseason camps are well underway, and soon the blocking and tackling will formalize in actual games against real opponents in full stadiums. Tailgating time and appointment TV viewing beckon; set your calendars accordingly.
It’s time to prepare ourselves for the bonanza to come, with an overview of everything college football has laid out for us. Forty observations on the 2022 schedule:
1. The softest September belongs to Michigan. The Wolverines play no road games and no Power 5 nonconference opponents, after dropping a scheduled series with UCLA three years ago. Michigan’s four September opponents—Colorado State, Hawai’i, Connecticut and Maryland—went a combined 17–33 last year, with an average Sagarin ranking of 114. Three of them are breaking in new coaches. If strength of schedule matters more than brand name, there should be no reason to rank the Wolverines highly before October. (The Wolverines’ 2023 nonconference schedule is East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green, all at home of course. Weaksauce.)
2. Others easing their way into the season in September: Mississippi opens with Troy, Central Michigan, at Georgia Tech and Tulsa; Oklahoma State starts with Central Michigan, a diminished Arizona State, Arkansas Pine–Bluff and an open date; UCLA opens with Bowling Green, Alabama State, South Alabama and at Colorado (thanks in part to Michigan opting out).
3. A round of applause for East Carolina, which did the impossible for a non-Power 5 program—it scheduled four straight home games to start the season. The biggest is the first, with North Carolina State coming to Greenville. Expectations are higher than they’ve been in years for the Pirates, and the schedule gives them a chance to deliver.
4. Toughest September schedule: Kent State plays three body-bag games: at Washington Sept. 3, at Oklahoma Sept. 10, at Georgia Sept. 24. The lone home date is against Long Island on Sept. 17. The Golden Flashes are 15–79 all-time against current Power 5 programs, with nine of those wins coming against Louisville (none of the victories over the Cardinals are more recent than 1973).
5. Toughest October schedule: Mississippi State plays Texas A&M, Arkansas, at Kentucky, at Alabama from Oct. 1–22. The Bulldogs get a needed open date Oct. 29.
6. Toughest November schedule: Indiana hosts Penn State, then is at Ohio State and Michigan State, then closes against rival Purdue.
7. Teams going deepest into the season before playing a true road game: Arkansas at Mississippi State, Oct. 8; Auburn at Georgia, Oct. 8; Ohio State at Michigan State, Oct 8; Nebraska at Rutgers, Oct. 7.
8. Last teams to leave their state: Texas doesn’t play outside the Lone Star State and UCF doesn’t play outside the Sunshine State until Oct. 22. That’s good news for both teams. The Longhorns went 0–4 outside the state of Texas last year, and the Knights went 1–4 outside of Florida.
9. The Game of the Week, every week, starts with Week Zero: Nebraska-Northwestern. Can an August game in Ireland be a must-win? Scott Frost is about to find out.
10. Week 1: Notre Dame at Ohio State. The Big Ten quickly gets down to business this season, with the above league game in Week Zero, this blockbuster in Columbus and two East-West Division matchups Labor Day weekend: Penn State at Purdue Thursday and Illinois at Indiana Friday. This is a loaded week everywhere, reminding us all why we love this stupid sport so much.
11. Week 2: Alabama at Texas. Big yardstick game for the Longhorns in Year 2 under Steve Sarkisian. Forget winning; has he made enough improvements to compete with the Crimson Tide? It will be hotter than the surface of Mercury for this daytime game on artificial turf in Austin; we’ll see whether Texas will melt or man up.
12. Week 3: Miami at Texas A&M. The two most controversial recruiting programs of the new era show what they can do on the field in College Station. Is there an instant upgrade for the Hurricanes with Mario Cristobal? Is Jimbo Fisher’s flush freshman class ready to contribute? (Penn State at Auburn is a close second for Game of the Week. There are only eight Power 5 vs. Power 5 nonconference games this weekend.)
13. Week 4: Clemson at Wake Forest. Is this finally the year the Demon Deacons can beat the Tigers? Or even compete with them? Clemson has won 13 straight in the series, and the last one closer than two touchdowns was in 2011. Wake simply has not been up to the physical challenge, but it has the skill players to do some damage. This could be the biggest game in Winston-Salem in a long time.
14. Week 5: Michigan at Iowa. The Wolverines’ first game outside the Ann Arbor bubble will provide a yardstick for how much each program has changed since the mismatch in the Big Ten championship game last December. Michigan has lost four straight in Iowa City, dating back to 2005. That includes the ’16 upset that put the first seeds of doubt into the Harbaugh Era, when the 9–0 Wolverines were beaten by a 5–4 Kirk Ferentz team.
15. Week 6: Texas A&M at Alabama. You can’t beat Rivalry Week in late November, but this looks like the next best thing—there are juicy matchups all over the place. In addition to the newly bitter Aggies–Crimson Tide showdown, there is Ohio State at Michigan State and two ancient grudge matches (Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas and Auburn at Georgia). BYU vs. Notre Dame in Las Vegas provides an appealing clash of faith-based universities as well.
16. Week 7: USC at Utah. This figures to be the Trojans’ rudest road reception of the season in the league it will abandon in 2024. (The other USC road games: Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona and fellow Big Ten evacuee UCLA.) It’s also the first matchup of Lincoln Riley finesse vs. Kyle Whittingham power, with major Pac-12 championship ramifications likely. This caps a seven-games-in-seven-weeks stretch for both teams, so keep an eye on which team is in better health coming into this showdown.
17. Week 8: Cincinnati at SMU. The Bearcats’ American Athletic Conference winning streak could be up to 18 when this game rolls around. It’s a big opportunity for first-year SMU coach Rhett Lashlee and his super-productive quarterback Tanner Mordecai, against a Bearcats defense that is replacing two early-round NFL cornerbacks. Other games of note in an underwhelming week: UCLA at Oregon, Boise State at Air Force, Iowa at Ohio State, Texas at Oklahoma State.
18. Week 9: Ohio State at Penn State. This is a huge week in the Big Ten East, with Michigan State also playing at Michigan. The Buckeyes have owned the series over the last decade, winning nine of 10. Penn State’s last two wins were on a blocked field goal return in 2016 and a 20–14 victory in The Horseshoe, when the coaching matchup was Nittany Lions interim Tom Bradley against Ohio State interim Luke Fickell. (Those were strange times.)
19. Week 10: Clemson at Notre Dame. We can only hope this will be as good as the last time these two played in Notre Dame Stadium. That was a top-five matchup that went into double overtime and greatly enlivened the 2020 pandemic season. That game was the coming-out party for Tigers quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, but the celebration has soured since then. Where will his career arc stand on Nov. 5?
20. Week 11: Kansas State at Baylor. This is the weekend to do all the chores around the house you’ve been putting off all fall. But both teams are solidly coached and built, and this game could have Big 12 title implications. The Bears are the preseason conference favorite for the first time in their history.
21. Week 12: Oklahoma State at Oklahoma. Bedlam is always big, but the matchups gain added weight with the end of the series looming in the near future as the Sooners depart for the SEC. The Cowboys won a landmark game in Stillwater last year, reversing years of futility in the rivalry, earning a spot in the Big 12 title game and hastening the exit of Lincoln Riley to USC the next day. Sooners fans insisting that Brent Venables will be an upgrade over Riley have a lot invested in winning this game.
22. Week 13: Michigan at Ohio State. The centerpiece game of the best weekend in the sport, when rivalries proliferate. There are a lot of players on both sides that have never played this game in The Horseshoe, since the last installment there was in 2018. And none of them have played it the year after a Michigan victory. If both teams live up to their billing, pretty much everything should be on the line here, as it was last season in Ann Arbor.
23. Week 14: SEC championship game in Atlanta. Don’t worry about the repetition, embrace the excellence. If we get Alabama-Georgia Part Infinity, sign us all up. Four of their last five matchups have been with either the SEC or national title on the line, and both could be Playoff-bound when this game rolls around in December.
24. Week 15: Army-Navy in Philadelphia. The cadets and midshipmen in uniform. The option offenses. The potential for winter weather. This is the game the purists can’t live without.
25. Trap games that could—however unlikely—throw the playoff picture into chaos: Alabama at Mississippi Nov. 12, with the Crimson Tide coming off a trip to LSU and the Rebels coming off an open date; Georgia at Kentucky Nov. 19, with the Bulldogs coming off a run of Florida in Jacksonville, Tennessee at home and Mississippi State on the road; Clemson at Florida State Oct. 15 looms at the end of a four-game stretch (three on the road) for the Tigers that includes matchups with likely ranked opponents Wake Forest and North Carolina State; Utah catches a Thursday night game at Washington State on Oct. 27, when the weather could start getting squirrely on the Palouse and where the Utes have not won since 2011.
26. There are 21 instances of Power 5 programs playing a road game against a non-P5 opponent. The conference breakdown: three by SEC teams; three by the Big Ten; 10 by the ACC; two by the Big 12; three by the Pac-12. Non-P5 hosting breakdown of those games: seven by the American; four by the Mountain West; four by independents; three by the Sun Belt; two by the MAC; one by Conference USA.
27. Three P5 teams play two non-P5 opponents on the road: Vanderbilt is at Hawai’i and Northern Illinois; North Carolina is at Appalachian State and Georgia State; Virginia Tech is at Old Dominion and Liberty. In both Hokies road games and the Tar Heels at App State, the assumption is that the road teams will put a lot of their fans in the stands and lessen the home field advantage.
28. For whatever reason, conferences are doing a much better job this season avoiding multiple open-date disadvantages for teams (defined as facing an opponent coming off an open date when you yourself are not). There are only seven such instances in SEC league games, six in the Big Ten, five in the Big 12, four in the ACC and two in the Pac-12. (Indiana is the only school in a Power 5 league with two games at an open-date disadvantage, and both are on the road: at Nebraska Oct. 1 and at Rutgers Oct. 22.)
29. Teams that play three consecutive road games: New Mexico State, Massachusetts, Marshall, Arkansas State, Akron. Toughest of the bunch: Akron is at Michigan State Sept. 10, at Tennessee Sept. 17 and at Liberty Sept. 24. Worst logistics: UMass is at UConn Nov. 5, at Arkansas State Nov. 12 and at Texas A&M Nov. 19. Trips from Amherst to Jonesboro and College Station on successive weeks will be a late-season grind.
30. Body clock games (other than everyone playing in Hawai’i): Kent State gets a 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Washington Sept. 3; Mississippi State has a 10 p.m. CT kickoff at Arizona Sept. 10; Eastern Michigan kicks off at 11 p.m. ET at Arizona State and North Dakota State kicks off at 10 CT at Arizona Sept. 17; Western Michigan at San Jose State is slated for a 10:30 ET kickoff Sept. 24. On the other end of the body clock, Eastern Washington is blessed with a 9 a.m. PT kickoff at Florida and Air Force hosts Navy at 10 a.m. MT Oct. 1.
31. Toughest stretches logistically (not necessarily in terms of competition): From Oct. 1–15, LSU is at Auburn, plays Tennessee with the Volunteers coming off an open date, then plays at Florida. Also from Oct. 1–15, Michigan is at Iowa, at Indiana and plays Penn State with the Nittany Lions coming off an open date. From Oct. 22–Nov. 4, Boston College is at Wake Forest, at Connecticut and hosts Duke in a short-turnaround Friday game; all three opponents are coming off open dates. From Nov. 5–19, independent Liberty plays at Arkansas, at UConn and home against Virginia Tech.
32. Penn State has had four seasons with three or more consecutive losses in James Franklin’s eight years on the job, including each of the last two. The most dangerous stretch for another tailspin is Oct. 15–29, when the Nittany Lions are at Michigan, host Minnesota and host Ohio State. The Minnesota matchup, scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, has been designated Penn State’s annual White Out game.
33. Ohio State opens with its first five games in The Horseshoe for the first time since 2003. The Buckeyes went 5–0 then, but it was hardly smooth sailing—they beat San Diego State by three, went three overtimes to defeat NC State and Philip Rivers, and beat Bowling Green by seven. That Buckeyes team, coming off a national championship, finished 11–2. This year the Ohio State early home slate includes a couple of big challenges in Notre Dame (Sept. 3) and Wisconsin (Sept. 24).
34. Ball State is the weeknight team of the year, with one game on Thursday night (at Tennessee Sept. 1) and four November #MACtion games on Tuesday night.
35. The Somebody Finally Wins Bowl is Friday, Sept. 2, at Wallace Wade Stadium: Temple, on a seven-game losing streak, visits Duke, loser of eight in a row. The Blue Devils’ streak is tied for the longest in Power 5 with Indiana, which opens the same night at home against Illinois.
36. Longest current losing streak against FBS competition belongs to FIU, which last beat a team from that level in 2019. The opponent: Miami. No wonder some Hurricanes fans wanted to fire Manny Diaz his first season. FIU has lost 16 straight to FBS competition. Under new head coach Mike MacIntyre, the Panthers get their first shot at snapping that streak Sept. 9 at Texas State.
37. The nation’s longest active winning streak has a chance to continue for a while, if Louisiana can maintain momentum through a coaching change. The Ragin’ Cajuns, winners of 13 straight, open against FCS Southeast Louisiana and then host Eastern Michigan before traveling to Rice and Louisiana-Monroe. Louisiana doesn’t play a Power 5 opponent until a Nov. 19 trip to Florida State.
38. The ugliest game of the season could be Utah Tech at BYU on Nov. 19. Formerly Division II Dixie State, Utah Tech had a name change and moved up to FCS last season, whereupon it went 1–10. BYU also has an open date before the game to rest up and prepare to host the mighty Trailblazers.
39. The natural grass kings of 2022: Miami and Auburn, which play all 12 games on real sod. (Auburn also has arguably the most beautiful grass field in the sport.) Runners-up: Alabama, Florida, LSU, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas A&M play 11 of 12 games on natural grass. The SEC is the grass capital of college football.
40. Fakes: Michigan, New Mexico State, Boise State, Colorado State, Nevada, Marshall, James Madison, Georgia Southern, Texas State, Arkansas State, UTSA, North Texas, Florida International, Northern Illinois and Buffalo play every game on artificial turf.