Big 12 Football: Top 15 Must-See Games of 2020

Regardless of the circumstances, the Red River Showdown between Oklahoma and Texas remains a marquee matchup

Of the three Power 5 conferences opting into a fall 2020 season, the Big 12 was the last to make it official. Now that it's in the mix, the conference with the strangest championship format (a round-robin followed by a league title game) modifies its schedule.

 

The round-robin remains intact despite the complications amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with things kicking off the final week of September. While it might not be the most logical of dockets, every member playing each other does make for plenty of entertaining possibilities.

 

15. Texas at Kansas, Nov. 21

Let's get weird. Kansas has long been a Big 12 basement dweller, and the Jayhawks finished Les Miles' first season in Lawrence 3-9. But among those nine losses was a 50-48 shootout in Austin that ranks among the promising efforts for the program in recent years. Running back Pooka Williams Jr. put up big numbers in 2019 and heads into 2020 generating a ton of buzz. Late November in Lawrence might be the perfect conditions for a back of his rushing style to take over.

 

14. Oklahoma at West Virginia, Nov. 28

Since West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, the Mountaineers have put up a goose egg in the win column against Oklahoma. Nevertheless, there have been some exceedingly weird and wildly entertaining installments in the fledgling series, including an absolute shootout when the Sooners last visited Morgantown in 2018.

 

Neal Brown faced some growing pains in his first year at the helm of West Virginia, but he turned Troy into a Top 25 finisher in short order and is a disciple from the Hal Mumme Air Raid tree. Jarret Doege, whose older brother Seth quarterbacked Brown-coordinated offenses at Texas Tech, could be poised for a breakout season in his first full campaign as the Mountaineers starter.

 

13. Oklahoma State at Kansas State, Nov. 7

Oklahoma State draws a pair of high-profile, high-stakes home games immediately before making the trip to Manhattan. That's the quintessential making of a trap game. So, too, is the physically imposing brand of football Chris Klieman emphasizes at Kansas State.

 

Klieman continued the North Dakota State dynasty before making the transition to K-State, employing a style built on ball control, defensive aggression, and dominance of the lines. It runs contrary to many of the philosophies prevalent in the Big 12 but worked to the tune of a surprising 8-4 regular season in 2019.

 

12. Baylor at Texas Tech, Nov. 14

There are certainly unknowns facing both Baylor in its first year under Dave Aranda, and Texas Tech in the second year of a rebuild under Matt Wells. However, the two played one of the most exciting games of the 2019 season, and the uncertainty ahead of both in 2020 could make for another classic.

 

Texas Tech returns one of the most veteran offenses in the Big 12 and most of its secondary. By this later juncture of the season, the Red Raiders should more closely resemble the vision for which Wells and his staff envision.

 

11. Kansas State at Oklahoma, Sept. 26

Opening weekend in conference competition runs back one of the league's defining games of 2019. Kansas State stunned Oklahoma in Manhattan a season ago, continuing under Chris Klieman a Bill Snyder tradition of the Wildcats being surprise nemeses to Oklahoma. The contrast in philosophies between the programs explains some of the surprising outcomes in recent years, playing out the old cliche "styles make fights."

 

10. TCU at Baylor, Oct. 31

Former members of the Southwest Conference, Baylor and TCU may not have had a rivalry in the traditional sense — especially after former Texas governor Ann Richards helped BU get an invite to the newly formed Big 12 and TCU bounced around for the next two decades. But in the 2014 season, with both chasing berths in the inaugural College Football Playoff, a rivalry formed.

 

The two enter 2020 projected for the middle of the Big 12 pack, but both programs have shown an aptitude for exceeding expectations. One or both might hit this stretch of the campaign as an emerging dark horse.

 

9. Iowa State at TCU, Sept. 26

Early-season matchups are prime with upset potential that disproves every preconception college football punditry adopted in the offseason. While Iowa State's emerged as a trendy name in the Big 12 horse race ahead of the 2020 campaign, TCU lurks in a role it's played well for years now: spoiler.

 

The Horned Frogs get Iowa State at home to kick off the conference slate and could spring a trap on the promising Cyclones — particularly if returning starting quarterback Max Duggan progresses from his flashes of potential shown in 2019.

 

8. Iowa State at Texas, Nov. 28

In the regular season's penultimate weekend — that will never not feel strange to write about Thanksgiving weekend — the Big 12 title chase could gain some clarity. Both Texas and Iowa State return talented quarterbacks and potential Heisman Trophy candidates in Sam Ehlinger and Brock Purdy, on whom championship aspirations hinge.

 

Iowa State has historically been a punching bag for Texas since the two became conference mates in the late 1990s, but the 2020 Cyclones have an opportunity to win in Austin for just the second time ever, and build the program's first-ever winning streak against the Longhorns.

 

7. Baylor at Oklahoma, Dec. 5

After both the regular-season meeting in Waco and the Big 12 Championship Game delivered with instant classics, ranking the third meeting in 13 months this low might be disrespectful. Baylor will look significantly different from the surprise team of 2019, but that doesn't preclude the Bears from again exceeding expectations. There's a distinct possibility that by this juncture in the campaign, Baylor is again playing for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.

 

6. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Nov. 21

Oklahoma State has struggled mightily historically in this rivalry, with just 18 wins in 114 tries. Oklahoma has run off five in a row and 7-of-8, and all but a one-point thriller in 2018 during the current five-game Sooners streak were determined by at least two scores. While that doesn't exactly sell the high stakes of this matchup, it does convey the high hurdle Oklahoma State faces in its quest for a Big 12 title.

 

The 2020 season may be the Cowboys' best chance to emerge from an unpredictable-yet-stacked group at the top of the conference. Beating Oklahoma is a prominent piece to that path.

 

5. Texas at Oklahoma State, Oct. 31

Last season's 36-30 Texas win marked three straight in this series that have come done to a single possession. Ehlinger had a monster performance with four touchdowns and will again be front-and-center, but he will be facing what should be Oklahoma State's best defense in recent memory.

 

That side of the ball has vexed the Cowboys in recent years, but the 2020 group returns 10 starters. Kolby Harvell-Peel leads a difference-making secondary that was tied for 31st nationally last season with 12 interceptions. This is the second of back-to-back key home games for Oklahoma State, which could determine their conference championship hopes.

 

4. Baylor at Texas, Oct. 24

Baylor emerged as one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 college football season and came within a score of winning the Big 12 championship. The Bears locked up their spot in the conference's title contest with a defensive performance for the ages against Texas, holding the Longhorns to just 10 points.

 

BU rebuilds in 2020, with head coach Matt Rhule gone for the NFL and a slew of new starters on that defense. But the offense is loaded with enough returning playmakers to make some noise, and Aranda is one of the finest defensive minds in the college game.

 

3. Iowa State at Oklahoma State, Oct. 24

In 2018, a then-relative unknown quarterback named Brock Purdy had a coming-out party against Oklahoma State. Purdy dumped 318 yards on just 18 completions against the Cowboys defense and scored four touchdowns in a thrilling Cyclones win.

 

Two years later, Purdy leads a potential Big 12 title contender and could factor prominently into the Heisman race. He's not the only one in this game, though: Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard put up numbers that deserved an invite to New York a season ago.

 

2. Oklahoma at Iowa State, Oct. 3

Each year of Matt Campbell's tenure as head coach has elevated the expectations at Iowa State. The 2020 Cyclones may have the most realistic shot of winning a conference title of any since the program joined the Big 12 as part of the Big 8's merger with the Southwest Conference. Just how realistic? We might know very early in the campaign when conference-standard bearer Oklahoma visits Ames.

 

1. Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas), Oct. 10

The 2020 Red River Showdown will have a look unlike any season before due to the cancellation of the Texas State Fair. That's pretty much par for the course in the pandemic era. We should at least get some normalcy in this being a competitive and high-stakes game.

 

Quarterbacks in Lincoln Riley's system have made easy transitions, with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray winning Heisman Trophies and Jalen Hurts finishing as a finalist. Spencer Rattler has next. Meanwhile, Texas rolls with entrenched starter Ehlinger, a leading preseason name mentioned in the Heisman conversation. It could (and should) indeed a shootout along the Red River.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

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