While one can argue as to the Big 12’s place in the pantheon of the Power Five, there’s little doubt that the league is among the deepest on the field from top to bottom in the country. The end result is a season full of fascinating games that are often quite entertaining ones given the wide-open offenses and skill position talent in the conference.
Traditional power Oklahoma is once again the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 but the Sooners will have plenty of competition this year from the likes of TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State and even dark horses like Texas Tech and Kansas State. Following an offseason in which the conference was often in the news cycle for all the wrong reasons, there’s a chance over the coming months for the league to distinguish itself between the lines and put a team into the College Football Playoff once again.
With that in mind, here are the top 15 must-see games involving the Big 12 in 2016.
1. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Sept. 17)
It’s not a stretch at all to call this one of the biggest non-conference games of the past several years given the stature of programs involved. Add in the fact that both the Sooners and the Buckeyes are legitimate contenders for the national title and College Football Playoff and there should be plenty of people tuning in to watch this clash between blue bloods.
2. Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 1)
Oklahoma enters the 2016 season as the favorite to repeat as Big 12 champions but the Sooners will have plenty of competition from TCU this year given what the Horned Frogs return. This is already setting up to be a battle between top-10 teams in early October and looks to be the conference game of the year.
3. Oklahoma at Houston (Sept. 3)
Opening weekend in the state of Texas has an impressive non-conference slate but no game has a chance to shape the College Football Playoff talk quite like this one. A win would put Oklahoma in just about everybody’s top four while a Houston victory would send the Group of Five party crasher talk into overdrive.
4. Notre Dame at Texas (Sept. 4)
Two historic powers and two of the top three winningest programs of all-time meet in Austin for a game that has become much more interesting following a rash of suspensions by the Fighting Irish. With so many question marks for both teams, including a new-look offense for the Longhorns, this one should be must-watch out of curiosity as much as anything. That it’s the only game on Sunday during Week 1 helps even more.
5. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 8)
The Red River Rivalry (or officially, Red River Showdown) is one of those bucket-list games for every college football fan to attend and this year’s edition once again should be must-watch television for those not able to make it out to the Cotton Bowl. Despite Texas’ recent struggles, the Longhorns have played extremely well in this game under Charlie Strong and should once again make things a dogfight as the Sooners look to avenge last year’s loss.
6. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Dec. 3)
Bedlam served as a de facto Big 12 championship game last year and Oklahoma State fans no doubt have a bad taste in their mouth from a blowout loss combined with seeing their rivals celebrate a conference title on their home field. Both teams have the potential to set up a rematch with similar stakes for the last game of the regular season in 2016.
7. TCU at Baylor (Nov. 5)
This has been one of the more entertaining series in conference play since the Horned Frogs joined the league and the bad blood between the programs continues to boil over throughout the year. It’s possible both teams are in the hunt for the Big 12 title but even beyond this, an I-35 rivalry game alone is worth watching.
8. Oklahoma at Texas Tech (Oct. 22)
It’s safe to assume this one will be called the “Baker Mayfield Game” by just about everybody as the Oklahoma quarterback returns to Lubbock to face his former team. There have been plenty of words said between the two parties that suggest things aren’t all that rosy so the welcome the Heisman candidate gets upon his return is reason enough to tune in.
9. Kansas State at Stanford (Sept. 2)
Two of the nation’s most continually underrated programs meet in Palo Alto for some opening week action that should be full of interesting storylines. If anybody is going to try and slow down all-purpose star Christian McCaffrey, one has to think the Wizard of Manhattan, Bill Snyder, has a chance to come up with something.
10. Arkansas at TCU (Sept. 10)
A game that should be a study in contrasts, Bret Bielema’s pound-the-rock offense will travel to Fort Worth to take on Gary Patterson’s stingy defense. Both teams will feature new starters at quarterback but a host of skill position players return for a quality Big 12/SEC tilt.
11. Kansas State at Oklahoma (Oct. 15)
Bob Stoops is 96-8 at home with the Sooners and of those eight losses, his old mentor Bill Snyder is the only one who’s been able to top him twice in Norman. Number three won’t be so easy but this contest should have big conference title game implications and is always one of the more interesting Big 12 games of the season.
12. Baylor at Oklahoma (Nov. 12)
A meeting of the past two Big 12 title winners is shaping up to be a huge November matchup between two teams that could be playing for the crown again. Baylor will no doubt remember last year’s contest where the Sooners unexpectedly won in Waco and are probably looking to spring a similar surprise in Norman as two high-flying offenses face off.
13. Texas Tech at TCU (Oct. 29)
The last time these two hooked up in Fort Worth, TCU laid a whooping on the Red Raiders to the tune of an 82-27 rout. Last year, it took a miracle tipped catch for a touchdown to give the Horned Frogs a win in a wild game. This year’s edition has a lot to live up to but given the amount of talent on both squads, it still figures to be quite the contest.
14. Kansas State at TCU (Dec. 3)
The Wildcats and Horned Frogs are not the two flashiest teams in the Big 12 by any stretch of the imagination but both can produce some classic games. This one, in the final week of the season, could become just that — especially if there’s a league title on the line for either one.
15. Baylor vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 25 – Arlington, Texas)
These two teams have combined for at least 1,100 yards of offense and 90 points per game the past four seasons and there’s no reason to think the streak can’t keep going with quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Seth Russell behind center. Black Friday shopping has nothing compared to the chaos on the field for this one.
Best of the Rest
Texas Tech at Arizona State (Sept. 10)
Missouri at West Virginia (Sept. 3)
Pitt at Oklahoma State (Sept. 17)
Texas at Cal (Sept. 17)
Oklahoma State at Baylor (Sept. 24)
West Virginia at Texas Tech (Oct. 15)
Baylor at Texas (Oct. 29)
Oklahoma State at TCU (Nov. 19)
Oklahoma at West Virginia (Nov. 19)
TCU at Texas (Nov. 25)
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.