The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season

The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season

Here are the best upsets, shootouts, rivalries, and Heisman moments from a wild season

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

With bowl season rapidly losing its significance and only really three games that matter remaining, now feels like as good a time as any to look back on the best of college football’s regular season. From upsets to heated rivalries and Heisman-defining moments, there was no shortage of great games in 2022.

While championship weekend came and went mostly without an all-timer — TCU only knows close games — let’s take a look at college football’s 10 best, most significant outcomes. I’m not going to go too long on the criteria. I’ll just say that the matchups had to be somewhat on the national radar, and hold our attention for the full 60 minutes. That means Ohio State-Michigan doesn’t qualify, so sorry, Kevin Warren.

Alright, let’s get into it.

Advertisement

2 / 12

10. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines 19, Illinois Fighting Illini 17

10. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines 19, Illinois Fighting Illini 17

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

It’s indicative of how uninteresting the Big Ten was this year that this is the only game from the conference. A week before The Ohio State game, U-M hosted Bret Bielema’s resurgent Illinois team. (Yes, I’m using resurgent liberally for a squad that finished 7-4.) It was B1G football at its most Big Ten.

The two teams exchanged punts and field goals for close to four hours. Hell, there was even a flurry of touchdowns in the third quarter as Illinois took a 17-10 lead going into the fourth, one they would hold until the final nine seconds of the game.

Running back Blake Corum, the Wolverines’ offense for most of the season, tweaked his knee early in the game, and J.J. McCarthy engineered field goal drives of 15 yards, 54 yards, and 35 yards to keep Michigan’s perfect season intact. The two-point margin of victory was only the team’s second one-possession game of the year.

The next two weeks, they’d go on to beat the Buckeyes by 22 and the Boilermakers by 21 to capture a second-straight Big Ten title and another trip to the College Football Playoff.

Advertisement

3 / 12

9. Florida State Seminoles 24, LSU Tigers 23

9. Florida State Seminoles 24, LSU Tigers 23

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

Brian Kelly’s first outing as the head coach of LSU ended in a loss, but the game featured twists that only happen with the Bayou Bengals. Held in New Orleans, the opening weekend showcase looked like it was going to be a meek debut from Kelly’s bunch.

Down 17-3 late in the third quarter, the Tigers cut the lead to 17-10. The two traded a couple more scores, and after a stop that would’ve given LSU the ball back with a chance to even the game at 24 all, LSU’s Malik Nabers fumbled the punt and gave it back to Florida State.

Treshaun Ward got the Seminoles down to the one-yard line with less than two minutes remaining only to fumble on the third down.

Jaden Daniels drove LSU 99 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown to tie the game. But the point after got blocked, and Florida State faithful flooded Bourbon Street. Even though Kelly’s team got more publicity late in the season by beating Alabama and returning to the SEC title game, Mike Norvell and quarterback Jordan Travis finished the regular season higher in the standings.

Advertisement

4 / 12

8. Appalachian State Mountaineers 17, No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies 14

8. Appalachian State Mountaineers 17, No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies 14

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

This wasn’t a wild ending as much as it was an omen for things to come in College Station. Jimbo Fisher’s program was a trendy pick to make noise in the SEC for reasons unknown to even average college football fans. One of my preseason upsets was Miami over A&M in Week 3, and the Aggies didn’t even make their College Gameday appearance.

Even though I was wrong about the Hurricanes pulling the upset, both schools were massive disappointments considering preseason rankings. The Aggies and the U reached No. 6 and 13, respectively, and both finished 5-7 despite their head coaches being paid enough money to buy Haiti.

The Mountaineers at least finished the season bowl eligible. At 6-6, they didn’t get a bid. However, they beat the Aggies in front of the vaunted 12th Man, and LSU didn’t do that this year.

After an A&M kickoff return for a touchdown tied the game 14, Chase Brice led App State on an 18-play, nine-minute drive that featured four third-down conversions to give the Mountaineers a 17-14 lead. The Aggies missed a 45-yard try with 3:43 remaining, and never got the ball back.

App State stole A&M’s spotlight and Gameday, with the show going to Boone, North Carolina, the following week for the App State-Troy game. That ended with a walkoff Hail Mary and Mountaineer students stopping traffic.

Advertisement

5 / 12

7. No 5. Clemson Tigers 51, No. 21 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 45 (2OT)

7. No 5. Clemson Tigers 51, No. 21 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 45 (2OT)

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

The ACC title went through Winston-Salem this year for all of four weeks, but they made Dabo Swinney’s club earn it. Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman finished the game with 337 yards and six touchdowns, and Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei had a mere 371 and five scores.

The two offenses combined for 1,006 yards combined, and put up 41 points in the second half. Wake Forest scored on every second-half possession but the last. Clemson punted on the opening drive of the third quarter and wasn’t stopped again for the rest of the day other than a kneel with 22 seconds left to go to overtime.

Hartman’s sixth TD of the game gave the Deacons the lead momentarily before Uiagalelei responded with his fourth and fifth touchdowns. The Tigers didn’t get the two-point conversion, but did get a stop on fourth-and-6 for the win.

Uiagalelei’s year went downhill after that, never throwing for more than 300 yards again, getting blown out by Notre Dame, losing to rival South Carolina, getting benched in the ACC title game, and ending up in the transfer portal.

Advertisement

6 / 12

6. No. 7 USC Trojans 48, No. 16 UCLA Bruins 45

6. No. 7 USC Trojans 48, No. 16 UCLA Bruins 45

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

Week 12 in the Rose Bowl was the week that likely won Caleb Williams the Heisman Trophy. Lincoln Riley and Williams’ second year together, first at USC, was as good as Southern California could’ve hoped. They came up a win short of the College Football Playoff, and should take the overall lead for most Heisman winners with eight overall if you count Reggie Bush’s (and you should).

By the way, if we’re giving out a college football commercial of the season, it’s Wendy’s pretzel pub ad where Reggie acts like the burger’s return is the return of his Heisman.

OK, about the action. This made Clemson-Wake Forest look tame. After 41 points total in the first half, the two future Big Ten schools tallied 52 in the final two periods. The rivals amassed 1,262 yards of offense, and 893 of it came on the arms and legs of the two QBs.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson ended with 390 total yards and six total touchdowns while Williams did stuff you can’t replicate in a video game. The Trojan QB finished with 503 total yards and three scores.

Chip Kelly’s team got out to an early 14-0 lead, but trailed for the majority of the second half. A Darwin Barlow six-yard run in the fourth gave USC a 48-38 lead, UCLA cut it to 48-45, got the ball back, and then threw an unfortunate interception. Williams picked up a first down on the very next play, and USC ended the game in victory formation.

Advertisement

7 / 12

5. No. 13 TCU Horned Frogs 43, No. 8 Oklahoma State Cowboys 40

5. No. 13 TCU Horned Frogs 43, No. 8 Oklahoma State Cowboys 40

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

Week 7 of the college football season felt like the best weekend of the season at the time, and this list will bear that out. Three top 10 schools lost, including No. 3 Alabama and No. 7 USC. Every winning fanbase rushed the field, and hypnotoad faithful were the first.

Facing their third-ranked foe in as many weeks, had trouble getting going for most of the day. The Pokes built a 17-point lead in the first half, and entered the fourth quarter up, 30-16. Quarterback Max Duggan cobbled together a quick TD drive to cut the lead in half and then went 94 yards on eight plays to even the game at 30 a piece, finding Jared Wiley from eight yards out.

A couple of quick punts and the game went to OT, where the Frogs scored first, Okie State responded, but had to settle for a field goal to start double overtime. TCU went on to win the game in six plays, with Kendre Miller punching in the game-winner from two yards out.

It’s incredible how consequential that win was in hindsight. Duggan and Co. gradually built confidence throughout the year, but in the moment it was overshadowed by the outcomes in Salt Lake City and Knoxville.

Advertisement

8 / 12

4. No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs 29, Baylor Bears 28

4. No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs 29, Baylor Bears 28

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

As TCU’s improbable road to playing in one of the two New Year’s Eve games that matter rambled on, it’s clear now that — if you don’t mind me borrowing a LeBron James-ism — they’re built differently. This matchup was dripping with upset.

Two Ws away from a trip to the CFP, on the road against the defending Big 12 Champion, and more late-game deficits are an afternoon snack for the Frogs. Duggan is from Council-tucky. He doesn’t give a fuck what you think of him, or how much more deserving an SEC team is.

Here’s a snapshot of what another Saturday in the life of TCU looked like, per me in a Sunday TMA.

“TCU’s weekly stress test included: Not leading until the late third quarter, a missed extra point, a TD with two minutes left to try to tie the game, a dropped two-point conversion to tie the game, a no-safety-net three-and-out hold, a last-minute field goal drive, and a 17-second fire drill to get the kicking team out for a 40-yard kick as time expired because they ran a fucking run play on third and seven that failed to produce a clock stoppage.”

Sonny Dykes’ team made the playoff-winning game like this. We waited all season for the Big 12 to cannibalize itself, and TCU didn’t falter until their flights were booked. Who knows about their chances against Michigan, but who cares.

Advertisement

9 / 12

3. No. 10 LSU Tigers 32, No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide 31 (OT)

3. No. 10 LSU Tigers 32, No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide 31 (OT)

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

For college football fans outside of Tuscaloosa, the day that Alabama and Nick Saban are officially eliminated from the national title contention is a day worth celebrating. Usually, we have to wait until the SEC title game if not the playoff to exhale. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all, and we’re left bitter.

Well, not this year. It’s been more than a decade since the Tide were outside scratching at the door this early. Not since 2010 has Bama accrued two losses by Week 10 or earlier, which incidentally was the last time LSU beat the Tide in Baton Rouge.

On a night when there were nine lead changes and a tie, the two SEC West rivals stood in the ring like heavyweights exchanging jabs, crosses, haymakers, and uppercuts. Down 7-6 at the break, the Tigers and Tide traded the lead back and forth six times until Alabama’s Will Reichard tied the score at 24 with a 46-yard field goal and 21 ticks remaining to send it to overtime.

In the extra period, Alabama earned a PI flag on a crucial third down to set up a go-ahead touchdown, and Saban opted for the point after to make it 31-24.

On LSU’s first offensive play of OT, QB Jaden Daniels scored from 25 yards out on a zone read, and as opposed to testing his luck in double OT, Brian Kelly went for two and the win. Daniels found tight end Mason Taylor in the flat who fell into the endzone for the win. Purple-and-gold-clad fans rushed the field, and Kelly was left teary-eyed after beating Saban for the first time in three tries, with the two previous instances coming in the BCS or the CFP.

Advertisement

10 / 12

2. No. 20 Utah Utes 43, No. 7 USC Trojans 42

2. No. 20 Utah Utes 43, No. 7 USC Trojans 42

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

If the Pac-12 Championship was as entertaining as the regular season contest between these two schools, it would’ve been the game of the year. However, it wasn’t even the game of Week 7 (more on that next), and thus got lost in the chaos.

With 1,118 yards of total offense and 12 scores overall, a track meet broke out in the middle of a football game. Caleb Williams finished the game with 438 total yards and five touchdowns, and had the Trojans up by 14 three different times in the first half, but Cam Rising and the Utes stayed the course.

Kyle Whittingham’s team played catchup all night. They cut the lead to seven before the break, tied it at 28 early in the third quarter, and evened it up again at 35 early in the fourth. Then a Williams 20-yard pass on third and eight with six minutes remaining gave the Trojans a 42-35 advantage.

Rising again responded, going on a 15-play, 75-yard march that lasted five-plus minutes and ended in a touchdown. However, Whittingham opted not to play for overtime despite being at home. The Utes went for two, which Rising converted himself for a 43-42 lead with 48 ticks remaining. The Trojans wouldn’t get past their own 40 and fell from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Saying Rising outplayed Williams would be like saying Dominique Wilkins outdueled Larry Bird in Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, but the Utah signal caller’s stat line — 475 total yards and five scores — was slightly better. Unlike Wilkins’ Hawks though, the Utes got the W.

Advertisement

11 / 12

1. No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers 52, No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide 49

1. No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers 52, No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide 49

Image for article titled The 10 best college football games of the 2022 season
Image: Getty Images

This was the best game of the best weekend of the season. Yes, other games on this list have featured the end of streaks, offensive explosions, jaw-dropping performances, lead changes, heated rivalries, fans rushing the field, and late-game pandemonium. However, none of them had all of those things. The third Saturday in October had been a nightmare for Vols fans for the past 15 years.

Since Nick Saban arrived in Alabama, Tennessee had never beaten him, and most of the matchups were one-sided. My girlfriend, a UT grad, didn’t even know about the victory cigar tradition seeing as she couldn’t even drive the last time the Vols beat Bama.

After Josh Heupel’s team squandered a 28-10 lead, and Tide linebacker Dallas Turner waltzed into the endzone on a scoop-and-score midway through the fourth quarter to take a 49-42 lead, the inevitably of Saban and Alabama crept back in.

On a night when Bryce Young was unconscious — 455 yards passing and innumerable Houdini impressions to extend drives — none of that mysticism mattered. Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker and the Vol offense would not be denied. Finishing with 441 total yards and five passing TDs, Hooker found Jalin Hyatt for his fifth receiving score with three and a half minutes left to tie it up at 49. The 11-play, 75-yard drive took part mostly on the ground as the Bama defense was absolutely gassed.

Applauding a Tennessee defense that allowed 569 yards seems laughable, but they did get a stop with Bama and Young threatening to get in chip-shot range. After forcing three-straight incompletions to stall the Tide drive at the UT 32, Will Reichard missed a 50-yarder that would’ve given Bama a three-point lead with 15 seconds remaining.

As opposed to sitting on the ball and going to overtime, Heupel trusted his quarterback, who completed two passes for 18 and 27 yards to put UT in range for a 40-yard field goal that kicker Chase McGrath made despite the ball spinning sideways off his foot.

Knoxville erupted in joy, fans rushed the field, lit cigars with UT players and coaches, tore down the goalpost, carried it to the Tennessee River, and dumped the keepsake into the waterway. Even though there were many indelible moments from this college football season, Tennessee 52, Alabama 49 will live on the longest.

Advertisement

12 / 12