Many believe that the Big 12 is a two-horse race in 2014.
While that is likely true, the rest of the conference is going to be extremely entertaining. Kansas State, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State all believe they can step into that two-horse race and — because of the beauty of a true round-robin schedule — all five will get to face each other this fall.
It means that fans nationally should be paying attention to the Big 12 every Saturday. Here are the top 15 must-see Big 12 games in 2014.
1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Nov. 8)
The Bears have never won in 11 tries in Norman and the Big 12 title likely hangs in the balance on Nov. 8 when Art Briles brings his squad into Memorial Stadium. This was a 29-point blowout in favor of Baylor last year in Waco but both teams will be different this fall. Bryce Petty will have to be near perfect and the BU defense must develop before November if it wants to win this marquee showdown.
2. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 11, Dallas)
The Red River Shootout (no, I don’t call it the Rivalry) enters a new era with a new chapter as Charlie Strong takes part in his first Cotton Bowl showdown. Texas won this game inexplicably a year ago and the Sooners should be plenty motivated to get revenge against a first-year coach. For better or worse, Strong’s work with the offensive line will be on full display.
3. Baylor at Texas (Oct. 4)
The Bears topped both Texas and Oklahoma at home last year but to repeat as Big 12 champs, Briles’ bunch must top both conference powers on the road this fall. The Bears have won in Austin before but this isn’t Mack Brown's Longhorns anymore. As far as early-season conference games go, this one is fascinating.
4. UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, Arlington)
UCLA has Pac-12 South Division title hopes and possibly more as Brett Hundley enters his third season under center. Texas will be three weeks into the Charlie Strong Era in Austin and will provide a nasty early-season test for the Bruins on a “neutral" field in Dallas. Both teams have outside chances at landing a spot the College Football Playoff and an early-season slip up must be avoided for both programs.
5. Auburn at Kansas State (Sept. 18)
Gus Malzahn's offense led by Nick Marshall and a deep receiving corps faces Bill Snyder's defensive wizardry on the road on a Thursday night. Both teams will have extra time to prepare for the primetime mid-week meeting and both will be contenders for their respective conference championships. From a coaching standpoint, it doesn't get much better than Malzahn vs. Snyder.
6. Kansas State at Oklahoma (Oct. 18)
Many people believe that Kansas State could be the top challenger to the Sooners and Bears. However, the Wildcats must face both on the road. This was a 41-31 home loss for Bill Snyder a year ago and it was KSU’s only loss in the final seven games of the season. Going on the road will be even more difficult.
7. Kansas State at Baylor (Dec. 6)
Everything written above about KSU at Oklahoma applies to the trip to Waco as well. Kansas State had the Bears beat through three quarters but allowed Bryce Petty to bring Baylor back in the final period and secure a key road victory (35-25). Again, Snyder will have to be at his best to win on the road against Briles.
8. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Dec. 6)
This was a fantastic game a year ago and normally is one of the best in the league. With Oklahoma State taking a small step back into rebuilding mode this fall, the Bedlam Series doesn’t carry the same national weight as usual. But this is still an intense in-state rivalry and Mike Gundy would love nothing more than to knock the Sooners out of playoff contention with a road win over Bob Stoops.
9. Texas at Kansas State (Oct. 25)
The Wildcats were more than just a thorn in Mack Brown’s side, Kansas State owned the Longhorns. Before last year’s 31-21 win in Austin, the Wildcats had won five straight and seven out of nine against mighty Texas. So going to Manhattan, Kan., in October will be a huge moment in Strong’s first season.
10. Oklahoma at Texas Tech (No. 15)
The Red Raiders host both Texas and Oklahoma this fall and Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch is more than capable of pulling off an upset (or two). This offense is electric and nearly beat the Sooners in Norman last fall. Expect plenty of fireworks late in the season out in Lubbock.
11. BYU at Texas (Sept. 6)
A revenge opportunity for the Burnt Orange players and a chance for Strong to land his first big win as the head coach. Especially, the way quarterback Taysom Hill and the Cougars abused the Longhorns' rushing defense a year ago.
12. Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 4)
The Horned Frogs played in a lot of close games last season, including a narrow loss to the Sooners in Norman. Now, Oklahoma has to come to Fort Worth to face a much-improved TCU squad.
13. Texas at Texas Tech (Nov. 1)
Just like Oklahoma, Texas must travel to Lubbock in November to take on what could be the league’s top passing attack. This has upset alert written all over it.
14. Oklahoma State at Baylor (Nov. 22)
Revenge should be on the mind of Baylor when they welcome the Pokes to new McLane Stadium in the penultimate game of the year. Ok-State won 49-17 over Baylor last fall.
15. Baylor vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 29, Arlington)
If you like points and passing games, then look no further than this late-season matchup in Arlington. Davis Webb and Bryce Petty will be on full display. These two scored 97 points last meeting.
Best of the Rest:
16. TCU at Baylor (Oct. 11)
17. Kansas State at TCU (Nov. 8)
18. Oklahoma State at Kansas State (Nov. 1)
19. Arkansas at Texas Tech (Sept. 13)
20. TCU at Texas (Nov. 27)
21. Texas Tech at Kansas State (Oct. 4)
22. Texas Tech at Oklahoma State (Sept. 25)
23. Oklahoma State at TCU (Oct. 18)
24. Texas Tech at TCU (Oct. 25)
25. Iowa State at Iowa (Sept. 13)