College News & Analysis

College Football Week 1 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the biggest games

Pasadena, CA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (18) celebrates with quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) after making a catch for a touchdown against Utah Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III (8) in the fourth quarter during the 2022 Rose Bowl college football game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

• Previewing the biggest Week 1 games in college football: GeorgiaOregon, CincinnatiArkansas, UtahFlorida and Notre DameOhio State,

• No. 5-ranked Notre Dame faces a tough test against No. 2-ranked Ohio State's juggernaut of an offense in Week 1.

• To be fully prepared for this season, be sure to read our 2022 College Football Preview Magazine,

College football technically started last week, but this weekend is where the real fun begins.

Here are the biggest storylines, matchups and predictions for the four biggest games in Week 1.

#3 Georgia Bulldogs vs #11 Oregon Ducks

Storyline to watch: Familiar faces in new places

Dan Lanning’s first game as Oregon’s head coach comes against his former team. The former Georgia defensive coordinator takes over in Eugene after coaching the Bulldogs to the highest-graded Power Five defense in each of the past two seasons. The Ducks could have an elite defense of their own this year, with three defenders cracking the top 15 of PFF’s preseason positional rankings.

Lanning isn’t the only one on Oregon’s sideline who should be familiar to Georgia fans. Auburn transfer Bo Nix will likely be the Ducks’ new starting quarterback, and he's faced the Bulldogs three times before. He earned a 67.5 grade over those three contests and will need to significantly improve that if Oregon wants any shot at an upset.

Matchup to watch: Georgia’s interior offensive line vs. Oregon’s interior pressure

If the rare Bo Nix masterclass is out of the cards, Oregon will need to keep this game as low-scoring as possible. One way to do that is to get pressure on Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett. He earned just a 43.3 passing grade under duress in 2021, which was tied for 53rd among 72 Power Five quarterbacks. 

Oregon’s defensive line features Brandon Dorlus and Popo Aumavae, two of PFF’s top-15 interior defensive linemen in the country. They were two of only seven Power Five interior defensive linemen who received 80.0-plus grades as pass-rushers last season. They’ll also help create rushing lanes for Noah Sewell, who’s arguably the best blitzing linebacker in the country. Sewell recorded a 30.6% pass-rush win rate in 2021 — the highest among FBS linebackers.

Georgia’s offensive line is a top-10 unit in the country, but its biggest question mark is at the guard spots. Xavier Truss and Tate Ratledge are the likely starters but combined for fewer than 200 snaps last year. If they don’t get up to speed quickly, Oregon will be able to create consistent pressure up the middle.

Prediction: Georgia 35, Oregon 17

Bo Nix and the Oregon receivers will need to exceed expectations this year if the Ducks are to make serious noise. Don’t expect that to happen against the defending national champions.

#23 Cincinnati Bearcats @ #19 Arkansas Razorbacks

Storyline to watch: Playoff hangover or are the Bearcats here to stay?

Cincinnati made history last season as the first Group of Five school to make the College Football Playoff. It’ll be difficult to repeat such a run this year, as the Bearcats lost nine of their 10 most valuable players from that team, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. 

Still, a New Year’s Six bowl game is still very much possible for Cincinnati, which ranks ninth in PFF’s current power rankings. Winning on the road against a very good Arkansas team would be a major first step to accomplishing that. 

Matchup to watch: Arkansas rushing attack vs. Cincinnati’s run defense

Cincinnati's loss in the College Football Playoff wasn’t because of Alabama’s Heisman-winning quarterback, Bryce Young. It was because the Bearcats were repeatedly punched in the mouth by the Crimson Tide’s run game. Alabama racked up 301 rushing yards against Cincinnati, averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. 

The Razorbacks’ bread-and-butter will be their ground game this season. Arkansas has a top-five offensive line in the country, and K.J. Jefferson had the most yards after contact among Power Five quarterbacks last season. As a true freshman, Raheim Sanders converted 34.2% of his carries for a first down or touchdown, the ninth-highest rate among Power Five running backs.

The Bearcats lost their two best defensive linemen in Myjai Sanders and Curtis Brooks but have the nation’s second-best linebacker corps to stem the bleeding. This game could come down to whether Arkansas is able to gash Cincinnati in the run game in the same way Alabama did. 

Prediction: Arkansas 30, Cincinnati 24

Arkansas has the pieces on offense to follow Alabama’s blueprint. While the Bearcats will put up a valiant effort, the Razorbacks’ physicality will prove to be too much to handle.

#7 Utah Utes @ Florida Gators

Storyline to watch: Can either of these quarterbacks elevate their teams?

Utah has College Football Playoff aspirations after winning the Pac-12 championship last season. To make good on those hopes, quarterback Cameron Rising will have to improve from good to great. His 84.7 grade last year was a top-20 mark among Power Five quarterbacks. He excels with timing but won’t wow anyone with his physical tools. 

Florida’s Anthony Richardson is the polar opposite. He has some of the best physical tools in the country but is still very raw as a passer. His 6.5% turnover-worthy play rate last season was the sixth-highest in the Power Five among quarterbacks with at least 75 dropbacks.

For either of these teams to exceed expectations, their quarterbacks will have to take that next step. 

Matchup to watch: Utah’s rushing attack vs. Florida’s run defense

Cameron Rising’s development will be the biggest deciding factor in Utah’s playoff hopes, but he’ll at least have a stud running back to take some of the load off his shoulders. 

Tavion Thomas returns after leading the Power Five with 20 rushing touchdowns last season. The Utes also return three starters on an offensive line that finished in the top 15 among Power Five teams in run-blocking grade last year. Their leader up front is Braeden Daniels, who posted the eighth-highest run-blocking grade in 2021 among Power Five tackles.

PFF ranked Florida’s defensive line as one of the five best in the country entering this season, mainly due to Brenton Cox Jr. and Gervon Dexter. They’re both top-15 players at their respective positions in our preseason rankings. They’ll both need to show up in a big way to slow down Utah’s run game. 

Prediction: Utah 28, Florida 24

It may be only Week 1, but this game is critical for Utah’s playoff candidacy. The Utes will ride Tavion Thomas to victory, cementing themselves as legitimate contenders in 2022.

#5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ #2 Ohio State Buckeyes

Storyline to watch: Marcus Freeman’s first test is a big one

Before he began his coaching career, Marcus Freeman was a star linebacker for Ohio State. He was a two-time second-team All-Big Ten honoree before being drafted by the Chicago Bears

Now, his first game as Notre Dame’s head coach comes against his alma mater, which has the best offense in the country. Ohio State has the No. 4 quarterback, No. 4 running back, No. 24 running back, No. 2 receiving corps and the best offensive line in the country — all according to PFF’s preseason rankings.

Notre Dame is certainly no slouch defensively, with a defensive line and secondary among the 10 best in the country. Despite that talent, the Fighting Irish defense will still need to put up a performance of a lifetime to slow down the Buckeyes’ juggernaut of an offense.

Matchup to watch: Notre Dame’s offensive line vs. Ohio State’s defensive line

Ohio State’s offense against Notre Dame’s defense is a heavyweight matchup, but it’s the other side of the ball that could decide this game — more specifically, the trenches.

The Fighting Irish have a new quarterback in Tyler Buchner and are thin at wide receiver, but they’ll field the nation’s second-best offensive line. Four of Notre Dame’s five offensive linemen made the top 25 of PFF’s preseason positional rankings. The only other school to accomplish that was, you guessed it, Ohio State.

Before last year, Ohio State had finished just one season with a sub-90.0 team defense grade since PFF began grading college football in 2014: a still-solid 88.5 mark in 2020. In 2021, the Buckeyes finished with a 78.2 grade. If Ohio State’s defense is going to get back to its dominant ways, it’ll be on the back of its defensive line.

Zach Harrison boasts a 90.5 pass-rush grade since 2020, first among returning Power Five edge defenders. Tyleik Williams played just 183 snaps as a true freshman, but his 84.0 pass-rush grade would’ve ranked first among all Big Ten interior defensive linemen last season. Both J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer were top-five recruits in 2021 and should split time at the other edge defender spot.

Notre Dame’s offensive line is an established, dominant unit, but Ohio State has the potential to be one of the few teams to give them trouble.

Prediction: Ohio State 40, Notre Dame 21

Notre Dame fields one of the best defenses in college football for 2022, but it won’t be enough to stop the buzzsaw that is Ohio State’s offense. 

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