The Big 12 Conference has a pretty stiff wind at its back. Playoff appearances, Heisman Trophy winners, rising-star coaches and a 13-8 bowl record the past three years will do that for a league.
September’s non-conference schedule affords the Big 12 another gust, if the 10 teams can take advantage of it. Actually, it’s nine teams in this case. Baylor’s non-conference schedule is wretched. We won’t notice the Bears until they host Iowa State Sept. 28.
We’ll notice everyone else, though. The nation will notice the Big 12 for better or worse, based on how the conference stacks up in September.
With that mind, here are the Big 12’s 10 most important September non-conference dates:
1. LSU at Texas, Sept. 7, 6:30 p.m. (ABC-KTUL)
Many believe Tom Herman scored his official breakthrough with that Sugar Bowl conquest of Georgia last New Year’s night. Maybe.
Does it help catapult Texas past Oklahoma as the Big 12’s best 2019 playoff hope? Does it help catapult Sam Ehlinger past Jalen Hurts as the Big 12’s best 2019 Heisman candidate?
For the purposes of this delicious showdown in Austin, we might ask: Will Ehlinger outplay his counterpart? Recall that Joe Burrow had his own New Year’s breakthrough to lead LSU past Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. Now he takes aim at the Longhorns.
2. Houston at Oklahoma, Sept. 1, 6:30 p.m. (ABC-KTUL)
OU-UCLA at the Rose Bowl is a prettier matchup. OU-Houston in the season opener is a better one.
There is so much intrigue in Hurts’ Owen Field debut, and Alex Grinch’s as well. Mix in new Houston coach Dana Holgorsen along with Cougars dual threat terror D’Eriq King, you get the potential for a 56-45 thriller.
Sorry, Sooner Nation, but “here we go again” will be an early-season narrative after this one.
3. Oklahoma at UCLA, Sept. 14, 2:30 p.m. (FOX-KOKI)
Is UCLA the team that went 3-9 in Chip Kelly’s inaugural season, or the one that beat USC and fell 49-42 to Stanford to close 2018?
Will the Bruins, who open 2019 at Cincinnati and against San Diego State, come into this game 2-0, 1-1 or 0-2?
There is a “no telling” element in play here, especially for an OU defense that must contend with talented UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and proven running back Joshua Kelley (289 yards against USC last November).
4. West Virginia at Missouri, Sept. 7, 11 a.m. (ESPN or ESPN2)
New Mountaineers coach Neal Brown gets a tap-in to open his tenure (James Madison Aug. 31). A week 2 SEC road trip, even if it’s to Columbia, Missouri, and not Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is more like a par save from a pot bunker.
It’s a shame this doesn’t boil down to Will Grier vs. Drew Lock. Instead, this being 2019 and the Transfer Portal Age, we get former Sooner Austin Kendall (if he can hold off Jack Allison) vs. former Clemson Tiger Kelly Bryant.
You know... That is verrry interesting, actually.
5. Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 14, 3 p.m. (FS1)
One of the few things Matt Campbell hasn’t done as Iowa State coach is win this game. It’s time he did, especially with Brock Purdy at quarterback and a depth chart of experienced talent on defense.
If he does, the Cyclones will be 3-0 headed to Baylor Sept. 28. Win that one, they’ll get a ton of “best Big 12 contender beyond OU/Texas” buzz.
6. TCU at Purdue, Sept. 14, 6:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
This sets up as the most fascinating of Gary Patterson’s 21 years at TCU. How does he bounce back from such a deranged season (competed with Ohio State, lost at Kansas, got destroyed at West Virginia, then won three straight including the Cheez-It Bowl to finish)?
It will help to win this game. That might come down to how Patterson’s typically sticky defensive backs fare against Rondale Moore, Purdue’s Heisman-contending receiver.
7. Kansas State at Mississippi State, Sept. 14, 11 a.m. (ESPN or ESPN 2)
At least be competitive this time. OK? Please? Thanks.
The Big 12.
8. Oklahoma State at Tulsa, Sept. 14, 2:30 p.m. (ABC or ESPN Network)
What an opportunity for Philip Montgomery and the Golden Hurricane. Not just this date, but the eight-year home-and-home series ADs Derrick Gragg and Mike Holder hammered out recently. That’s 11 games TU’s program, fan base and city can rally behind.
For the Cowboys’ sake, they get to take over Chapman Stadium five of those games. That should reinforce the Pistol Pete brand in a critical satellite city.
From a football standpoint? The Pokes better win all 11 games comfortably to reinforce the Big 12 and Power 5 brands, not to mention an interstate hierarchy.
9. Texas Tech at Arizona, Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Red Raiders play a 100-point non-conference game every year. You just never know if they’ll have the ball last to win the thing. So it’ll go in Tucson.
If Alan Bowman takes the field with 1:20 remaining, Texas Tech wins 59-56. If Khalil Tate trots out instead, give the nod to Arizona.
10. Kansas at Boston College, Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m. (ACC Network)
KU hosts Indiana State and Coastal Carolina before this roadie. Do we dare believe an undefeated-as-Jayhawks-coach Les Miles makes it 3-for-3 at Chestnut Hill?
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