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SEC Football: 10 Most Intriguing Non-Conference Games of 2022

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Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs Football

Kirby Smart and defending national champion Georgia open their season in Atlanta against perennial Pac-12 contender Oregon

Year in and year out, the SEC provides us with some of the best matchups in all of college football. While the majority of these "can't miss" games fall within the conference schedule itself, the 2022 SEC non-conference slate offers an array of interesting matchups that are worthy of your attention as well. That is particularly true for the month of September. In fact, the vast majority of college football's marquee non-conference matchups for weeks 1-3 will feature teams from the SEC.

Related: Early SEC Football Predictions for 2022

So, while the start of the 2022 season is still a few months away, it's never too early to start exploring some of the more exciting non-conference games on the SEC schedule for next fall. 

Most Intriguing Non-Conference Games of 2022 by Power 5 Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

Here are the 10 most intriguing SEC non-conference games for 2022.

10. Missouri at Kansas State, Sept. 10

A rivalry is renewed for a series that began in 1909 and saw these two teams face off every single year from 1927-2011. The series died when Missouri opted to leave the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012. However, these old foes are set to reunite on the gridiron for the first time in 11 years. The home-and-home series will kick off in early September in Manhattan and conclude with a 2023 matchup in Columbia. In addition to the nostalgia factor, this should be a fun game to watch. It will provide a great early-season barometer for both teams. It also will be particularly interesting to see what Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez does in his first real test at quarterback for the Wildcats.

9. Arkansas at BYU, Oct. 15

The only game on this list not being played in the month of September, Arkansas will travel to Provo, Utah, in mid-October to face BYU for the first-ever meeting between the two schools. It also will be the first leg of a home-and-home series between the Razorbacks and Cougars that will conclude next season in Fayetteville. A potential Top 25 matchup between two teams and head coaches on the rise — what’s not to like?

8. Auburn vs. Penn State, Sept. 17

SEC vs. Big Ten matchups are commonplace during the bowl season, but it's a rarity when teams from these two powerhouse conferences meet prior to December or January. Penn State and Auburn are no exception, as these two storied programs met for the first time ever during the regular season in 2021. Last year's meeting produced a contest that came down to the wire, with the Nittany Lions holding on for a 28-20 victory over the Tigers in Happy Valley. Penn State will now travel to Auburn for the first time ever to wrap up the home-and-home series against the Tigers, while Auburn will be hosting a Big Ten team at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time ever. Both teams will be looking to rebound from less-than-stellar 2021 campaigns. And this may even be considered a must-win game for second-year Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin.

7. Texas A&M vs. Miami, Sept. 17

Two of college football's biggest names will face off for the first time since 2008 in this intriguing mid-September matchup. New Miami head coach Mario Cristobal will have a couple of tune-up games at home before heading to College Station for his first big test against Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies. Texas A&M returns a loaded roster, boasted by the No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2022 and arguably the greatest class ever assembled at any point in time. But that talent will need to pay dividends in short order, as Fisher can ill-afford another four-loss season, especially if that includes a loss to a rebuilding Miami team at home.

6. Tennessee at Pittsburgh, Sept. 10

The Johnny Majors Classic, named in honor of the legendary player/head coach that made major contributions to both programs, returns for the back end of a home-and-home series between the Vols and the Panthers. Last year's game in Knoxville didn’t disappoint, with the Panthers edging out the home team Volunteers 41-34 in a shootout. And this year’s game in Pittsburgh is shaping up to be equally compelling. Star quarterback Hendon Hooker returns for the Volunteers to lead second-year head coach Josh Heupel’s high-octane offense against Pitt and defensive-minded head coach Pat Narduzzi. Despite losing Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett at quarterback, the Panthers should once again be able to go toe-to-toe with the Vols on offense. That’s thanks in large part to the addition of USC transfer Kedon Slovis at quarterback to go along with the elite talent of 2021 Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison at wide receiver. This definitely has the makings of another shootout.

5. Arkansas vs. Cincinnati, Sept. 3

A Group of 5 team going on the road to face an SEC team usually doesn’t draw a lot of eyeballs. But this matchup is most definitely an exception. The Bearcats are coming off a banner season in which they became the first G5 school to make the College Football Playoff. And while it will be a tall order for head coach Luke Fickell to repeat that feat in 2022, especially without standouts such as quarterback Desmond Ritter and cornerback Ahmad Gardner (to name a couple); the Bearcats return more than enough talent to field a Top 25 squad again this fall. The same holds true for third-year Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman, who led the Razorbacks to nine wins last season, including three victories over ranked opponents. Quarterback KJ Jefferson returns for the Hogs, along with a loaded backfield, in what should be a dynamic offense in 2022. The Razorbacks do lose elite wide receiver Treylon Burks, but they should be able to fill that void to a large degree with Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood. This will be the first meeting ever between Cincinnati and Arkansas.

Related: Ranking the SEC Transfer Classes for 2022

4. Florida vs. Utah, Sept. 3

Billy Napier kicks off his tenure as head coach of the Gators with a huge week 1 test against Kyle Whittingham and the defending Pac-12 champion Utah Utes. Napier has some serious work to do to get Florida back to pre-2021 form, but there is plenty of talent in place, along with several key additions by way of the transfer portal. Utah loses a few key starters from last season. However, the Utes appear poised for another big season and return more than enough firepower to successfully defend their Pac-12 title in 2022 and possibly make a run at the College Football Playoff. That includes quarterback Cameron Rising and star cornerback Clark Phillips III. Utah also added Florida’s second-leading tackler from last season in transfer linebacker Mohamoud Diabate. It will be very interesting to see how this one plays out. This will mark the second meeting ever between the two schools, with Florida winning the previous meeting by a score of 38-29 in Gainesville back in 1977. They will meet again next season in Salt Lake City.

3. LSU vs. Florida State, Sept. 4 (New Orleans)

While these college football juggernauts are no longer at the peak of their existence, this should make for an interesting matchup between two programs looking to make a return to prominence in 2022. It also marks Bryan Kelly’s head coaching debut for LSU. The pressure will be on for Kelly to provide a quick turnaround for the Tigers after back-to-back lackluster seasons under Ed Orgeron. A season-opening win against a historically-rich Florida State team would go a long way for the Tigers and their new head coach. Speaking of pressure, no one needs an early-season signature win more than third-year Florida State head coach Mike Norvell. The Seminoles are 0-6 in the month of September over the last two seasons under Norvell. Florida State will likely head into this game with a little momentum after facing FCS Duquesne in Week 0, while LSU should glean an edge from this being a de facto home game in New Orleans.

2. Alabama at Texas, Sept. 10

A pair of college football heavyweights collide, as defending SEC champion Alabama makes its way to Austin to face Texas for the first of a home-and-home series that will conclude next season in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban leads a reloaded Crimson Tide squad highlighted by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young and 2021 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Will Anderson. On the other sideline, former Alabama offensive coordinator and second-year Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian hopes to bounce back from a disappointing 2021 campaign. Texas should be loaded on offense with the return of several key starters, including star running back Bijan Robinson. The Longhorns also brought in several top transfers, most notably former 5-star quarterback Quinn Ewers from Ohio State. There should be plenty of offensive fireworks in the first meeting between these two schools since the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, resulting in a 37-21 victory for Alabama. And surprisingly, the only Crimson Tide win against the Longhorns in their nine-game history — Texas leads the all-time series 7-1-1.

Related: Early 2022 SEC QB Preview and Rankings

1. Georgia vs. Oregon, Sept. 3 (Atlanta)

It’s hard to imagine a more intriguing non-conference matchup than the 2022 Chick-fil-A Kickoff game between the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs and the Oregon Ducks out of the Pac-12. Oregon head coach Dan Lanning played a key role last season in helping Georgia win its first national title since 1980. And now, the former UGA defensive coordinator will return to Georgia to make his head coaching debut with the Ducks against his former team. Lanning inherits a well-stocked roster, as well as Auburn transfer Bo Nix at quarterback. Meanwhile, Kirby Smart returns most of his key pieces on offense, including quarterback Stetson Bennett. But there are some big shoes to fill on the defensive side of the football. And while Georgia has plenty of top-tier talent on tap to reload on defense, question marks remain for a group that will be short on experience. This will mark just the second meeting all-time between the two schools. Georgia won the only previous meeting by a score of 27-16 in Athens back in 1977.

Podcast: CFB Playoff Expansion on Hold (for now), Arizona State's Bad Offseason Continues and Games to Get Excited About for Week 1

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.