The 2021 college football season may have only recently come to an end, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to look ahead to 2022! While the Cougars certainly have room for improvement, there’s no denying that the team is returning a lot of talent, especially on the attacking side of the ball.
Still, it won’t be an easy task to hit double digits for the third straight season, with five P5 games, plus regional rivals Utah State and Boise State on the schedule.
Not all games on the 2022 schedule are created equal. The following have the greatest potential to make or break the 2022 BYU football season.
1. Notre Dame (October 8)
When it comes to season-defining games, it won’t get any bigger than this in 2022.
Many Cougar fans have a justified fear that this is a neutral game in Las Vegas rather than the recurring game in Provo that the Fighting Irish seem determined never to play. At this point, though, it’s a minor miracle that BYU gets a game against Notre Dame.
Sure, Notre Dame seems to be an eternally overrated team, always hyped to be a national championship contender, then never performing. But there’s no denying that the Fighting Irish has won a big name, finishing eighth in the latest AP poll after a minor loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.
As usual, Notre Dame is already being touted as a potential top-10 team for 2022, with most starters returning on either side of the ball. Notre Dame kicks off its season against Ohio State — if they take that win, expect the nationally televised game on NBC to be an even bigger opportunity for the Cougars.
2. Baylor (September 10)
The home opener against Baylor gives BYU the chance to return the same kind of hospitality the team received when it visited Waco in 2021: a friendly, welcoming atmosphere off the field and a loss on the field.
Aside from beating BYU, the Baylor Bears defeated four other ranked teams en route to a Big 12 championship and a Sugar Bowl win. While the team is expected to lose a fair amount of talent in both offense and defense, the expected return of four entry-level offensive linemen is sure to cause problems for the Bears’ opponents.
While Baylor will undoubtedly be the favorite on paper, BYU’s home crowd can certainly become a factor – just look at the impact the crowd had in last year’s game against the state of Arizona.
Baylor will almost certainly be ranked to start the season, and BYU has a good chance of either finishing in the top 25 or just outside the rankings. A ranked-by-ranked matchup early in the season is sure to get a lot of attention and will set the story for how people see the Cougars for the rest of the season.
3. Oregon (September 17)
As was the tradition in the Independence era, BYU starts with a fairly preloaded schedule. The week after taking on the Baylor Bears at home, the Cougars headed out to take on the Oregon Ducks. Again, an early season game against a Pac-12 opponent can help shape the story for the entire season.
The Ducks started the 2021 season as one of the hottest teams in the country, finishing third in the College Football Playoff poll, largely due to an upset win over Ohio state. Of course, Oregon’s shine faded pretty quickly at the end of the season, losing two games to Utah by a combined score of 76-17, then falling 47-32 to Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl.
Despite losing defending star Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Ducks are expected to be a top 25 team by 2022 by bringing back plenty of talent and bringing in former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix as key transfer.
The Ducks open the season against defending champion Georgia. While a loss to the Bulldogs probably won’t be considered too big a blow to Oregon, an upset win means BYU could face a top ten or even top five team when they go to Eugene.
4. Boise State (November 5)
Sure, games against Arkansas and Stanford may seem like a bigger deal than another game against a regional rival, but Boise State still remains one of the most important games on the 2022 schedule.
Like it or not, the Broncos have always been a tough enemy to the Cougars, especially on the road. To date, the 2020 contest is the only time the Cougars have won on the Smurf Turf, and even at home, the Cougars have only managed a 3-3 record.
Last year’s awkward match-up gave BYU its first loss of the season, which should certainly give the team enough motivation to get into the game. But what makes the Boise State so important this year is timing on schedule.
Boise State will be the Cougars’ 10th straight game for their farewell week. After the bye, BYU will play Dixie State and then Stanford. Based on Stanford’s performance in 2021, neither game will give the Cougars much traction in the rankings. If a smashed BYU squad loses to Boise State before the week, it could completely derail the national momentum the team had gained earlier in the season.
Just like 2021 before it, 2022 is poised to have some big opponents. If the Cougars manage to stay healthy and deliver the kind of performances they delivered against Utah and the state of Arizona in the 2021 season, the coming year is sure to have many memorable moments for Cougar fans.