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College football Week 1: 5 best games to watch

Vincent Frank

College football Week 1 is right around the corner after the 2022 campaign kicked off with very few games that were meaningful from a national perspective this weekend.

The same can’t be said starting Thursday with West Virginia and Pittsburgh headlining the slate. However, it’s all about the action on Saturday as national championship contenders spar in Columbus.

The 11th-ranked Oregon Ducks will also go up against the No. 3 team in the nation in that of the Georgia Bulldogs. Meanwhile, we’re excited to see what No. 7 Utah can do taking on Florida in the Swamp. These are among the five college football games to watch in Week 1.

Related: 2022 college football top 25

Clemson Tigers take on Georgia Tech in Atlanta

college football week 1: clemson at georgia tech
Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ranked No. 4 in the nation after a somewhat down 2021 season for Dabo Swinney and Co., Clemson has national championship expectations. It will be interesting to see what quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei can provide. The former top recruit stuggled big time as a sophomore a season ago.

D.J. Uiagalelei stats (2021): 56% completion, 2,246 passing yards, 308 rushing yards, 13 total TD, 10 INT

“It’s a game of performance, and you can’t change that,” Swinney said. “I can talk about how great he is all day long. He has to go do it. (But) I believe in him, and there ain’t no doubt about that,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney on D.J. Uiagalelei.

It is certainly all about what the quarterback actually does on Saturdays. The good news is that Clemson returns star young back Will Shipley after he recorded 855 total yards while averaging 5.2 yards per touch and scoring 11 touchdowns as a freshman. However, Clemson’s defensive line will define its success in 2022. That includes defensive tackles Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis as well as EDGE rusher Myles Murphy, the latter of whom recorded 11 sacks and five forced fumbles in his first two seasons.

As for Georgia Tech, it is coming off an ugly 3-9 season under head coach Geoff Collins as the program transitioned away from its triple-option offense. Quarterback Jeff Sims will have to work his magic with Malachi Carter acting as his top receiving target for a Tech squad that enters this Labor Day college football matchup as more than two touchdown dogs.

Related: College football Heisman rankings

Florida aims for home upset against Utah

college football week 1: utah at florida
Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

Considered the top team in the Pac-12, Utah heads to Gainesville to take on a Florida Gators squad that has heightened expectations in 2022. Billy Napier takes over for Florida and will be relying on former four-star recruit Anthony Richardson under center. The dynamic youngster split reps with Emory Jones as a freshman last season, but is now taking on a leading role.

“This is one of the things I really like about him. I think he has good awareness, good self-awareness, that he is an inexperienced player, that he has potential that, but also that he can improve. There’s lots to learn, getting comfortable with his role as a leader.”

New Florida head coach Billy Napier on Anthony Richardson

That certainly is a lot of pressure to put on a young quarterback without a ton of playing time. However, Richardson enters the 2022 college football season as the only healthy Gators quarterback with experience.

The same thing can’t be said about Utes signal caller Cameron Rising. The 6-foot-2 quarterback threw 20 touchdowns against five interceptions for Kyle Whittingham’s squad in 2021. He now leads a squad with realistic College Football Playoff expectations. Rising is joined by First-Team All-Pac-12 performer Tavion Thomas in a backfield that should be dominant in 2022. Tight end Brant Kuithe joins Thomas as one of the best skill-position players in the conference.

Related: 2023 NFL mock draft

West against East as Georgia takes on Oregon

college football games: oregon at georgia
Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has a lot to work with on the offensive side of the ball despite the Bulldogs losing running backs Zamir White and James Cook as well as wide receiver George Pickens from the national championship season a year ago. Tight end Brock Bowers returns and star pass-catcher Arik Gilbert looks to make an impact after his transfer from LSU. Gilbert is a true wildcard here.

“Darnell (Washington) coming off the injury, Brock (Bowers) coming off the injury, Delp coming off the mid-year, and Arik as well, we get a lot more reps. He has to be able to sustain.”

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart on Arik Gilbert

Though, it’s Georgia’s defense that seems to be more set and ready to dominate out of the gate. That includes defensive tackle Jalen Carter taking over as the face of its line following the departure of No. 1 pick Travon Walker. After sealing the national championship game against Alabama with a pick-six, cornerback Kelee Ringo heads a defensive backfield that also includes Tykee Smith, a stud safety transfer from Missouri. Though, Smith is still rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered last fall.

Oregon’s sitution is a tad different. Seemingly right there with Lincoln Riley’s USC team in the second tier of Pac-12 teams, the Ducks are set to go to work with new head coach Dan Lanning as the 2022 college football season kicks off. Former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix takes over for Anthony Brown at quarterback. Can he do enough to lead an unproven offense as Oregon’s defense looks to dominate? Will he even start this one with Ty Thompson also in the conversation to take snaps?

“Again, the only reason I’m not really talking about it with you guys is I don’t know why that’s an advantage for us,” said Lanning. “If I felt like it was an advantage I would tell you guys. I don’t.”

Oregon head coach Dan Lanning on QB situation

By not naming a starter here, Lanning is looking for a competitive advantage. Georgia and its elite defense needs to now plan for two different types of quarterbacks. This could help the team pull off an upset come Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.

Related: 5 college football teams who could surprise this season

Cincinnati and Arkansas do battle to open college football season

college football games: cincinnati at arkansas
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Despite losing Desmond Ridder to the NFL, Cincinnati heads into the 2022 college football season ranked No. 23 in the nation. Luke Fickell is running a mid-major machine with the Bearcats. That includes Ben Bryant returning to Cincinnati after spending last season with Eastern Michigan. Remember, the quarterback played his first three colleg seasons with Cincy after he was a three-star recuit out of Illinois back in 2018. He’s competing with holdover Evan Prater for the starting job.

With that said, Cincinnati’s longshot ability to return to the College Football Playoff will rely on the performance of running back Charles McClelland. Prior to 2021, he had not beeen able to finish the previous two seasons due to injury. He leads an unproven running back group. On defense, Justin Harris will have to step up at cornerback with Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant now in the NFL.

K.J. Jefferson is the major talking point in Arkansas after a brilliant junior season from the 6-foot-3 signal caller under Sam Pittman. If he’s able to improve even more, the Razorbacks will compete for a major bowl at the end of the college football season.

  • K.J. Jefferson stats (2021): 67% completion, 2,676 passing yards, 664 rushing yards, 27 total TD, 4 INT

Ranked 19th in the nation, Arkansas isn’t on th same level as Alabama and Georgia in the SEC. With that said, it could very well compete with Texas A&M and LSU behind the Crimson Tide in the West. A lot of that will depend on how Warren Thompson and Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood perform at wide receiver.

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The Horseshoe will be lit for Notre Dame-Ohio State

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

By far the most-notable game early in the 2022 college football schedule, Marcus Freeman returns to Notre Dame as the Irish full-time head coach. He will lead the fifth-ranked squad into the Horseshoe to take on the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. A total of 25 NFL teams are sending scouts to Columbus to catch this one on ABC at 7:30 PM ET.

For good reason. We’re talking two championship contenders with contrasting game plans going up against one another in front of north of 104,000 rabid fans. For Ohio State, it obviously starts with Heisman candidate C.J. Stroud under center. He’ll be joined in the backfield by stud young running back TreVeyon Henderson, who tallied north of 1,500 total yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day loves what he has in these two, especially Stroud after a brilliant redshirt freshman season. Day is also warning Stroud not to simply take last season’s success for granted.

“Just because he did it last year doesn’t mean it’s just gonna happen this year. If anything else, he’s got a bull’s-eye on his chest. So he’s gonna have to bring it right from the jump, and there’s a lot that comes with that. A lot of it has to do with leadership and the guys that are around him, and it’s got to take everybody on that offense.”

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day on C.J. Stroud
  • C.J. Stroud stats (2021): 72% completion, 4,435 yards, 44 TD, 6 INT

Entering this game as whopping 17-point underdogs, Notre Dame will be looking to do it differently inside Ohio Stadium. Four-star recruit Tyler Buchner will take over under center as a starter after he threw just 46 passes as a freshman last season. He’ll be forced to rely on running back Chris Tyree in the backfield and All-American tight end Michael Mayer in the passing game.

With all of that said, it’s going to be all about Notre Dame’s defense being able to keep Stroud and Co. in check. At the very least, containing one of the best offenses in college football. It starts with stud edge rusher Isaiah Foskey as well as defensive backs Brandon Joseph and Cam Hart.

In particular, Joseph could very well find a way to replace stud safety Kyle Hamilton as a centerfielder. He transferred from Northwestern after recording a combined nine interceptions over the past two seasons. New Irish defensive coordinator Al Golden loves what he sees with this experienced defense as the former Miami (F) head coach noted recently.

“I think we’re talented, I think we have depth and I think we have leadership. That’s a great starting point. The thing I’m most excited about is it’s a group that wants to be empowered, that wants to do it on the field, that wants to communicate on the field. Great things can happen when you have that kind of group.”

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden leading up to Ohio State game

If Notre Dame’s defense lives up to expectations, it should be able to keep this game close and potentilly pull off an epic road upset to open the 2022 college football season. It should be a blast.