Unless you’re super keen on watching Baylor put up 90 on a bunch of FCS teams, the Big 12 has some great Non-Conference games that you won’t want to turn off after the first quarter. With a Non-Conference lineup includes UCLA, Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin’s Alabama, and both teams that played in the National Championship last January--including the reigning Heisman winner, there’s plenty to be excited for before we’re fully submerged in conference play.
Bonus: Iowa State vs. Iowa
The Hawkeyes fielded one of the best defenses in the country last year (9th in the country in points allowed). Their offense is a different story, however. And it’s a big part of why the Hawkeyes haven’t had double-digit wins since 2009. If Paul Rhoads and the Cyclones are truly trending upwards, this will be the game to prove it.
10. Kansas vs. Duke
Duke’s kind of alone in the ACC. The Blue Devils’ improved defense (116 in 2012, 40 in 2013) was key to their success, but they’ll have less wiggle room this year after losing their offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, to Florida. They’ll make a bowl, but they’re nowhere near the caliber of FSU--a team far better than the ACC’s second best team, Clemson, a team that’s far better than everyone else in the ACC.
I’m going to play a fun game called "How many times will the commentators make basketball allusions" or simply spout "we’re told these guys play a little basketball too". A few years ago, this game would’ve been unwatchable. But this year might be a little more than bearable.
Charlie Weis has been at Kansas since 2012, but each year seems like it’s his first. I get excited every time I look at a coaches list and see his name. And then I remember it’s his third year and Kansas is still really bad. But hey, at least they’re getting better. It’s slow. But it’s happening.
9. West Virginia vs. Maryland
This rivalry begins a new chapter as Maryland’s now a Big 10 team. Does this really change anything about the game itself? Not really. Maryland’s 6th senior CJ Brown is a solid dual threat quarterback, and knowing how West Virginia’s defense will be in September, might just have himself a great day if healthy.
7. (tie) TCU vs. Minnesota and Texas Tech vs. Arkansas
Both TCU and Tech should win these games. Minnesota and Arkansas are nowhere close to being contenders in their respective conferences. If either TCU or Tech were to lose their games, it would be very embarrassing for the Big 12.
To Minnesota’s credit: They have a really great defense, yeah. The Golden Gophers finished 4th in the Big 10 last year in points allowed and they’ll have senior linebacker Damien Wilson to test TCU’s new offense. Sadly for the Gophers, they’re breaking in a new quarterback against one of the most complete defenses in the country. Cumbie and Meacham--and everyone in between--will still be getting their feet wet at this point, so we may be in for a slowburner.
I’m seeing a 20-6 game here. (Thanks Jaden Oberkrom)
To Arkansas’ credit: They play in the toughest division in college football. The SEC West has 7 teams, and 6 of them are better than the Razorbacks. Even giving them credit for playing in the toughest division, it’s still hard to find any silver linings in this Bret Bielema squad, a team that finished near the bottom of the entire SEC both offensively and defensively. Hard to believe this is the same Bret Bielema who, after losing a Rose Bowl, offered TCU to play the Badgers in Madison the following season with one catch. It wouldn't be a home-and-home. Nice pitch, Draper.
Patterson vs. Bielema Redux begins next fall in Fort Worth.
6. Texas vs. BYU
We saw what BYU did to Texas last year in Provo. If you don’t, here’s a reminder. Last year’s game had a lengthy delay thanks to a monster rainstorm, but it was nothing in comparison to the salty Texas tears that flooded Provo after the game. But the most interesting storyline in this game isn’t the quest for revenge for the 40-21 shellacking, but that this game is Charlie Strong’s first real test. Lucky for him, it’s in Austin. Unfortunately for him, Cougar Quarterback, Taysom Hill--who ran for 259 yards and 3 scores against Texas last year--is back.
5. Tennessee vs. Oklahoma
This should easily put one in the win column for the Big 12. Entering their second season without Derek Dooley, the Volunteers are still trying to find the right guy for their program. Butch Jones is doing everything he can to be that man. Despite nabbing the 9th best class in 2014--he’s still a few years off from making Tennessee a legit threat in the SEC East. As a Big 12 apologist, that means I’m required to root for the Sooners here. But Trevor Knight and company won’t need my assistance.
4. Alabama vs. West Virginia
Lane Kiffin, while as good of a head coach as his dad is an 80-year-old defensive coordinator, is actually a pretty exciting offensive coordinator and produced some of USC’s most exciting years. While he may not survive (life, not job) past the Tennessee game, he’ll be alive and well for this one. The game itself may not end up being that great, but every crowd shot and/or shot of tailgates at the Georgia Dome alone will be worth it.
3. UCLA vs. Texas
This fall marks the four year anniversary of one of the most bizarre college football games I’ve ever witnessed. UCLA strolling into Austin and demoralizing the Garrett Gilbert-led squad was the first domino in Texas’ chaotic 2010 season. Texas then got some revenge the next year out in LA. This time, meeting at a "neutral" site, Texas fans will obviously hold the advantage in the crowd. But Chuck will get yet another gnarly test against Mora’s sleeper Bruin squad.
2. Florida State vs. Oklahoma State
Damn. If only this game was played last year. The Cowboys will still be competitive, but just being competitive won’t win them this game. However, anytime a team from the Big 12 plays the reigning Heisman trophy winner, it’s gonna be a good’n.
1. Kansas State vs. Auburn, The Thursday Night Special
With apologies to Jameis Winston, this is easily the most intriguing non-conference matchup. And arguably, the most intriguing matchup regardless. Kansas State is everyone’s darkhorse, and for good reason. Unless you go to Kansas or maybe Iowa State--who both have really pleasant fans anyway--no one has anything bad to say about Bill Snyder and the Wildcats. Every Big 12 should be rooting for the Cats in this game. And if you aren't, I can't help you.
If "Trill Bill" Snyder can take down Gus "The Fuss" Malzahn--yep, I’m making up boxing nicknames for coaches now--the Wildcats, who’ll have a nine day break before playing UTEP the following Saturday, will begin their Playoff run.