The Big 12's 2011 Top 10 Games to Watch

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Kyle Field, 12th Man will play a huge roll for the Aggies this fall.

Kyle Field, 12th Man will play a huge roll for the Aggies this fall.

The start of the 2011 college football season is two weeks away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 10 must-see games in the Big 12 for 2011.

1. Oklahoma vs. Florida State (Week 3)
Sept. 17, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 5-1

There’s a lot at stake in this Week 3 matchup. Oklahoma and Florida State are national title contenders, and a marquee non-conference win would go a long way towards an undefeated season. The Sooners easily handled the Seminoles last year, winning 47-17 in Norman. Florida State will be hungry to avenge last season’s embarrassment and a victory over Oklahoma would be a statement win in Jimbo Fisher’s second season in Tallahassee. The Sooners suffered a blow when linebacker Travis Lewis was lost for at least the first month of the season due to a foot injury suffered in fall camp. Although Lewis is out, Oklahoma’s linebacking corps remains one of the best in the Big 12, especially with the rapid development of sophomores Tom Wort and Corey Nelson. Much of Florida State’s national title hopes will hinge on quarterback EJ Manuel, who enters his first year as the starter. The junior has six starts over the last two years and there’s no question he has the talent, but has yet to prove himself over a full season.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Seminoles by 3

2. Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State (Week 14)
Dec. 3, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 81-17-7

Dan Beebe and the Big 12 had to highlight one game on Championship Saturday after losing its title game and The Bedlam Series was an easy choice. Not only will in-state bragging rights be on the line for the 105th time, but the Big 12 title could be at stake as well. Oklahoma State fancies itself as the prime contender to Oklahoma in the league and will have a chance to prove it on the final weekend of the regular season. The Sooners have won eight straight in the series including last year’s 47-41 that featured 967 yards of total offense and 725 combined passing yards. Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden combined for 105 pass attempts, six touchdowns and six interceptions. With the stellar offenses returning for both in 2011, fans can expect fireworks once again from the Bedlam Series.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 3

3. Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 18-11

Crimson and Cream faithful certainly have this one circled on the calendar this fall. Not only is Texas A&M one of, if not the, top contender to the Sooners’ title hopes, but they also are programa non grata in the Big 12 and upset OU in last year’s bout. The Aggies entered the fourth quarter with a narrow 19-17 lead before two big play touchdowns from Cyrus Gray and Ryan Swope broke open the game. Landry Jones was sacked four times as the Sooners were held in check on the ground. TAMU held Oklahoma to 72 yards rushing on 44 carries. Without Von Miller, the game moves to Norman with revenge on the mind of Bob Stoops.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 10

4. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Week 6, Dallas)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Texas leads 59-41-5

The Red River Shootout doesn’t appear to have the same sex appeal as it has had over the last decade. This game has consistently been the best game in the league every season. However, after a 5-7 season from the Longhorns – and huge question marks looming along the offensive line and under center – this game losses some of its edge. But only some – this is still Texas-Oklahoma after all. Expect the Cotton Bowl to be rocking when these two bitter rivals square-off for the 105th time. Texas’ defense was the strength (if there was one) of this team last year, but DeMarco Murray rushed for 115 yards and two scores while Landry Jones tossed a pair of scores and protected the football in the 28-20 OU win. These two have split 2-2 over the last four years and the winner of the rivalry has gone on to win the Big 12 title each of the last three years.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 13

5. Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: TAMU leads 17-9

The right to challenge the Oklahoma Sooners for conference supremacy should be on the line when these two explosive offenses take the field in late September. The Pokes have won three straight in this series, including an edge-of-the-seat three-point win as time expired last fall. However, this game is in College Station and Jerrod Johnson – and his four interceptions – won’t be under center. Despite passing for 409 yards and five touchdowns against OSU last fall, Johnson lost his starting job shortly thereafter, giving way to Ryan Tannehill. This game could have been dramatically different had it been played after the switch at quarterback.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Aggies by 3

6. Missouri vs. Oklahoma (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: Oklahoma leads 65-25-5

Gary Pinkel and the Tigers look at themselves as Big 12 title contenders almost every season now. And rightly so. However, the Sooners have spoiled a pair of great Mizzou seasons with disrobings in the Big 12 title game by a combined 100-38. The Tigers finally broke through in 2010, however, with a big 36-27 home win. The victory marked the first win over Oklahoma since 1998 (seven games). With stellar offensive and defensive line play for the Tigers, Bob Stoops certainly won’t take Missouri lightly after being upset a year ago. Much of the Tigers’ season will hinge on James Franklin play and a Week Four trip to Norman looms ominously on the schedule.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Sooners by 10

7. Oklahoma State vs. Missouri (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Okie State leads 28-22

These two Big 12 contenders have played only twice since 2005, both of which went the way of the Pokes. Each team is eyeing a conference title and each team will have to go through the other - literally - if they want to push Oklahoma for the title. This game will feature two of the best offensive lines in the league as both collections of blockers return largely intact, but the real battle will come on defense. Mizzou boasted the best defense in the Big 12 a year ago, while the Pokes claimed the top rated offense. While Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and company give Okie State a clear edge on offense, the Tigers should have the advantage on the defensive side of the ball. Can Missouri slow the high-powered Cowboy attack? Can new quarterback James Franklin move the ball enough to keep pace with OSU? This will be one of the top swing games in the league this fall and should carry major consequences in the Big 12 title race.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cowboys by 1

8. Missouri vs. Texas A&M (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: TAMU leads 7-4

On the surface it looks like Jerrod Johnson played an excellent football game against the Tigers last fall. He threw for 322 yards, one score and no interceptions. There was one big problem, however: The Aggies lost 30-9. Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael combined for 55 yards on 15 carries. As a team, TAMU rushed for 57 yards on 33 carries against what turned out to be the best defense in the league. Out is Johnson. Out is Blaine Gabbert. Out is Aldon Smith. Out is Von Miller. The new Mizzou faces won’t be scared by the trip to College Station, however. The Tigers have won two of its last three games in College Station (including last year) and has won four of the last five. Expect the Aggies to pound the football for what should be better than the 1.7 yards per carry.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Aggies by 7

9. Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (Week 5, Arlington)
Oct. 1, All-Time Series: Arkansas leads 40-24-3

An old Southwest Conference throwback marks the second year in a row these two former rivals match-up in Texas Stadium. Ryan Mallett and Von Miller won’t be there this go around, but there should be no lack of star power and fireworks in Jerry’s World. Last fall, Jerrod Johnson completed only 15 of his 40 passes while Mallett threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns on 71% passing in the 24-17 Hogs win. These two combined for six total points in the second half and was the beginning of the end of Johnson’s tenure as the starter. Expect two new signal callers, Ryan Tannehill and Tyler Wilson, to utilize two stellar skill groups on the fast turf in Arlington. The Hogs may have the advantage up front but will be missing star tailback Knile Davis.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Razorbacks by 4

10. Texas vs. Texas A&M (Week 13)
Nov. 24, All-Time Series: 75-37-5

These two bitter rivals have only upped the ante in recent weeks with Texas A&M’s likely move to the SEC. The Aggies hate the Longhorns for a variety of reasons – not the least of which has been on the field domination by the Horns. Texas has won eight of the last 11 meetings, but TAMU currently holds the bragging rights with a 24-17 win last fall to go with three wins in the last five match-ups with Big Brother. Aggie fans feel confident they are a Big 12 title contender while Texas fans are not sure exactly what to expect from their squad. If Texas returns to prominence this game could carry heavy Big 12 implications. Otherwise, this will be a Turkey Day hangover game filled with nothing but Aggie one-liners and Burnt Orange hatred.

Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Aggies by 7

Other Top Games to Watch:

Oklahoma State vs. Texas (Oct. 15)
Texas vs. Missouri (Nov. 12)
Missouri vs. Arizona State (Sept. 9)
TCU vs. Baylor (Sept. 3)
Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 8)
Oklahoma State vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 12)
Arizona vs. Oklahoma State (Sept. 10)
Texas vs. Baylor (Dec. 3)
Texas Tech vs. Texas (Nov. 5)
Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 22)
Texas Tech vs. Missouri (Nov. 19)
Texas vs. UCLA (Sept. 17)
Kansas State vs. Miami, Fla. (Sept. 24)
Kansas vs. Missouri (Nov. 26)
Kansas State vs. Kansas (Oct. 22)

Other Big 12 Content

Big 12's Breakout Players for 2011
Ranking the Big 12's Top 35 Players for 2011
2011 Big 12 Unit Rankings

Athlon's 2011 Big 12 Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-Big 12 Team
Will Oklahoma and Texas A&M Leave the Big 12?
Oklahoma State's Dynamic Duo
Is Missouri the Big 12's Surprise Team?
Over/Under on Texas Wins in 2011

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<p> What are the Top 10 games to watch in the Big 12 in 2011?</p>
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