Week 1 of the 2022 college football season has arrived and so has our weekly look at Anxiety Games across the country. For those new here, we’re keeping tabs on games where the fans and/or coaching staffs of specific programs may feel a bit uneasy about the possibility of things going downhill with a loss.
We identified a few of these games for the light Week 0 slate last week and saw how they played out. Nebraska blew not one, but two double-digit leads in a 31-28 loss to Northwestern in Ireland and head coach Scott Frost’s seat went from hot to on fire. The other game saw Florida Atlantic put the beats on Charlotte for a 43-13 victory, setting the Owls up nicely moving forward while putting the 49ers behind the eight-ball.
With everyone set to be in action for Labor Day weekend, we’ll pick out a handful of Anxiety Games/Bowls for the slate.
Penn State at Purdue, 8 p.m. ET (Thursday), Fox
In one corner, you have a Penn State program that’s trying to break back into the upper echelon of the Big Ten after back-to-back down seasons. Head coach James Franklin’s name was repeatedly linked to openings like USC and LSU and the PSU brass responded by giving him a 10-year contract extension last November. While it’s nice for the program to lock in its successful coach for the future, there’s an expectation in Happy Valley to keep up with Ohio State and Michigan in the league. A loss to Purdue in West Lafayette, IN, to open the season would not be ideal towards those aspirations.
In the other corner, you have a Purdue team coming off a 9-4 season, it’s best mark since 2003. The Boilermakers were able to pull this off after it seemed like the Jeff Brohm era was starting to fizzle after an exciting start. A loss to Penn State wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would put a slight halt on the momentum obtained from last season.
Memphis at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday), ESPNU
It’s always a risky proposition whenever one of the Mississippi SEC schools plays regional foe Memphis and Mississippi State was reminded of that last year. The Bulldogs will welcome the Tigers to Starkville to open Year 3 of the Mike Leach era and this is a season where they’d like to take a step forward, especially since the players should be fully familiar with the Air Raid by now. Another loss to Memphis wouldn’t put Leach on the hot seat or anything, but it’s one of those things that could be used against him later should things go south.
As for Memphis, it has slid back from the top tier of the AAC since Mike Norvell left following the 2019 season. They’re a bit of an unknown coming off a 6-6 campaign last year and there’s extra anxiety surrounding the program after missing the Big 12 cut in the latest round of conference re-alignment. If they get smacked by State in Starkville to open the year, then questions about the long-term prospects of head coach Ryan Silverfield will be brought up.
Louisville at Syracuse, 8 p.m. ET (Saturday), ACC Network
We go to the
Carrier JMA Wireless Dome on a Saturday night for a matchup between two ACC coaching staffs who will be on the chopping block if progress isn’t made this season.
Louisville is now in the fourth-year of the rollercoaster Scott Satterfield experience and we’re still not too far removed from him getting caught trying to bail for South Carolina. He’s gotten back some of the good will he lost by already having eight blue-chip prospects lined up for the 2023 recruiting class, and has a potential dark horse Heisman candidate in Malik Cunningham back at quarterback. A season-opening loss could deflate all of that and put Satt back in danger.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen continued diminishing returns from Dino Babers and Syracuse since their 10-win campaign in 2018. They were blown out in their final three games of last season, putting them at 5-7 and missing a bowl. The reported buyout tied to Babers’ contract may be the reason why he’s still in charge and the brass in upstate New York may just be playing the waiting game. A blowout loss to open the season could expedite that decision.
Florida State vs. LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET (Sunday), ABC
Outside of Notre Dame-Ohio State, the biggest “helmet” game of the weekend will be Florida State meeting LSU inside of the Superdome in New Orleans on Sunday night.
The aforementioned Mike Norvell is 8-13 through his first two years as the head coach of FSU and it’s understood that progress must be made in Year 3, bowl eligibility being the bench mark. The top brass in Tallahassee, FL, has shown restraint and patience with the former Memphis head coach, and that’s a good thing considering the internal instability within the program since Jimbo Fisher’s departure. However, that patience will start to wear thin quickly if results aren’t produced and an underwhelming performance in the Dome could create further anxiety as the season unfurls.
Meanwhile, LSU is probably the biggest question mark in the SEC heading into the season as no one can really make heads or tails of what Brian Kelly’s LSU will look like in the first year of his tenure in Baton Rouge, LA. No, Kelly will not be in any danger if he loses his first game as the head coach of the Tigers, but how they perform could be a tone setter in either a positive or negative way.