With a nine-game conference season, Big 12 teams have focused more on the strength of schedule inside their league slate rather than in the non-conference portion.
What? You just need me to come out and say it? Fine. Coming up with 10 non-conference games worthy of this list was a struggle.
Conference heavyweights will be counted on to carry the Big 12 banner.
Here are the 10 biggest non-conference games including Big 12 teams:
1. Oklahoma at Notre Dame, Sept. 28
Last year the Fighting Irish announced their run at a national championship by pulling away for a convincing 30-13 win in Norman. Oklahoma would love to stake a claim for its own special season this year in South Bend. Both teams will have new quarterbacks, but expectations for the Sooners seem greater than those for a Notre Dame team that lost a great deal of talent. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has developed a bad tendency of dropping some big games. This one could help propel his team.
2. TCU vs. LSU (in Arlington, Texas), Aug. 31
This is a classic can’t-lose situation for TCU – as long as its keeps the score close. Though the Horned Frogs are very capable of beating LSU, especially mere miles down the road from campus, national expectations will be for the Tigers to win convincingly. It shouldn’t be that easy for Les Miles’ team. If TCU manages to beat the Tigers, it will be a landmark win for both the Horned Frogs, who are hoping for a run at the Big 12 title, and the conference.
3. Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi State (in Houston), Aug. 31
While there aren’t many big non-conference games in the Big 12 in 2013, this is one of two Week 1 Big 12-SEC matchups in Texas. Both the Bulldogs and Cowboys were bowl teams a year ago, though both had their sights set higher. Oklahoma State should contend for the league crown this season while Mississippi State can only hope to stay close to SEC West heavyweights Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. Still, a win over an SEC team goes a long way in the bragging rights world.
4. Ole Miss at Texas, Sept. 14
The Longhorns hung 66 points on Ole Miss in Oxford last season. Of course, that was before Hugh Freeze’s system really took off for the Rebels. QB David Ash especially shined, throwing for 326 yards and 4 TDs. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace, meanwhile, threw three interceptions in the loss. The Rebels finished on a high note, winning enough to make a bowl game. Texas has higher aspirations this year, though, with its eyes on a conference title.
5. Texas at BYU, Sept. 7
Mack Brown wanted to challenge his team during the preseason and certainly did so with this game on the road against a talented BYU squad. The Cougars could present a challenge for the run-first, play-action-second attack the Longhorns want to utilize. BYU LB Kyle Van Noy is among the best in the nation. The success of Texas’ stable of running backs could provide the difference.
6. Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 14
The battle for the CyHawk Trophy has gone to the Big 12 representative over the past two seasons. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads wants that trend to continue. Despite some geographic crossover, this is the lone Big 12-Big Ten matchup.
7. West Virginia at Maryland, Sept. 21
Maryland should take a step forward this season and West Virginia has work to do to maintain its level of play from 2012. This regular matchup has greatly favored the Mountaineers in recent years, with them taking the last seven contests.
8. Louisiana-Monroe at Baylor, Sept. 21
The Warhawks garnered national attention last season by beating Arkansas and taking Auburn to overtime. It’s easy to forget that Louisiana-Monroe took Baylor to the wire a week later – and that the Bears were easily the best of that trio of big-conference teams. Louisiana-Monroe won’t be intimidated by Baylor, but might not be able to match its firepower.
9. Louisiana-Lafayette at Kansas State, Sept. 7
That two games against Sun Belt teams make this list shows the relative weakness of the Big 12’s non-conference slate. Louisiana-Lafayette took Florida to the wire at The Swamp and, frankly, deserved a better fate than it received when the Gators blocked a punt and returned it for a game-winning touchdown on the game’s final play. Still, these are the types of non-conference games that helped Bill Snyder compile a very strong record against non-league opponents.
10. Louisiana Tech at Kansas, Sept. 21
For Kansas to even dream about a bowl game, it essentially must sweep the non-conference schedule. Louisiana Tech easily provides the biggest challenge. The Bulldogs are under new management – Skip Holtz took over as coach during the offseason – but still return several players from a team that cracked the top 25 last year.