Photo courtesy of Sam Craft | AP Photo
Week 1 of the 2022 college football season is days away and with that, will come bold predictions and wishful thinking on the four-team playoff bracket.
Instead of doing that, we will look at the games throughout the season that will have the biggest impact leading up to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
NOTE: Games like Oregon/Georgia and Notre Dame/Ohio State will not appear on this because of the high possibility they could all make the playoff with a loss should they win out the rest of the season.
1. Houston vs. UTSA (Week 1, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
For all of you Group of Five fanatics out there, the opening week could determine whether or not we get that G5 team into the playoff. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the Cougars given the transfer portal and some returning players and they need to make a statement early with a battle against last year’s Cinderella in UTSA, who was 11-0 at one point in 2021. There’s still other G5 teams that could burst the CFP bubble, but Houston is definitely at the top of that list.
2. USC vs. Stanford (Week 2, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Especially in the early parts of the season, going to Stanford Stadium is a trap for all Pac-12 teams. The Trojans may have won three of the last five outings against the Cardinal but haven’t won in Palo Alto since 2014. Stanford’s known to spoil the party of title-contending schools in the Pac-12 and this can be another one of those affairs given the hype and standard USC will be held to given Lincoln Riley’s first year as the head coach of the Trojans. A lot is riding this one for SC.
3. Clemson vs. Wake Forest (Week 4)
It’s safe to say Clemson disappointed last season and while they were able to rally somewhat of a decent into last year, this should be a program that’s in the playoff talk on an annual basis. It wasn’t the case last year and instead, the Demon Deacons were competing in the ACC Championship Game against Pittsburgh. It’s a statement game for both. Either Clemson is truly back with their first test or Wake Forest wasn’t a one-year fluke.
4. Oklahoma State vs. Baylor (Week 5)
One of two Week 5, conference-title grudge re-matches as Oklahoma State tries to get revenge on a Baylor team that stuffed them three times on the goal line to take last year’s Big 12 title. Mike Gundy is going to have his Cowboys fired up and it’s going to be an early playoff eliminator depending on what the Sooners are up to this season after their roller-coaster offseason.
5. Michigan vs Iowa (Week 5)
The Wolverines absolutely pummeled the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten title game last season, which should lead to a highly-motivated Iowa program and fanbase that are going to ramp up the hostility for Jim Harbaugh and co at Kinnick Stadium. It’s a litmus test for Michigan to see if they still are that team in the Big Ten.
6. Texas A&M vs. Alabama (Week 6)
Whewwwww. Get ready for this one. All the beef between Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban appears to be squashed but after the Aggies’ refreshing upset of the Crimson Tide last year, there is going to be severe animosity coming from the Tide faithful. If A&M can hold their own through their first five games, this sets up a potential top-five matchup that all eyes will be on. Could this game open a path to three SEC teams in the playoff?
7. BYU vs. Notre Dame (Week 6, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC/Peacock)
Most likely going head-to-head with A&M and Bama will be a potential playoff eliminator between the Fighting Irish and Cougars. BYU is another favorable non-Power 5 team that could break hearts and make the playoff. Before even getting to Notre Dame, however, the Cougars will have to outduel Oregon and Baylor to set up the holy clash in Sin City. Both of these teams have the two hardest schedules in FBS play this year so even if BYU or Notre Dame were to lose (if it’s close), they have the schedule to make a case to make the CFP with one loss.
8. USC vs. Utah (Week 7)
The Pac-12 back on the national scale will be huge for college football since the recent mediocrity from the conference over the last five years. With three potential candidates, there should be at least one Pac-12 team that doesn’t disappoint and finally gets back into the CFP for the first time since 2017. That playoff team could come from what should be the Pac-12 south title game. Make sure you have this clash at Rice-Eccles Stadium circled on your calendar.
9. Notre Dame vs. USC (Week 13)
Hmmmm, it seems that a lot of this college football season is dependent on the success, or lack-there-of, USC, and for the first time in years, it seems like the Trojans and Fighting Irish rivalry will be prime entertainment as both have playoff aspirations that could be decided in their late-season meeting in the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
10. Pittsburgh vs. Miami (Week 13)
There’s no doubt that when programs like USC and Miami are having success, it just makes a college football season that much more fun and in Week 13, the ACC Coastal could be on the line with the pivotal meeting at Hard Rock Stadium. Does Pittsburgh have a title defense in them or will it circle back to the old ways with Clemson atop the conference? A lot will be answered in this game.