Media Days are behind us, fall camps are underway across most of the country, and we’re just a few short weeks from the 2016 college football season officially getting underway with the calendar turning the page to August. With every team currently sitting at 0-0, optimism is running high right now for just about every head coach, player and fan ahead of that opening kickoff.
While some programs look like world-beaters and are aiming for nothing less than a berth in the College Football Playoff, the season is littered with potential upsets to derail that path for all 128 FBS teams. With the sport as competitive as ever, it can be tricky to predict upsets but we’ll do our best to put on the Carnac the Magnificent hat and stare into the future. Who’s bound to get upended by a lowly foe and who has a chance to bring down a college football goliath?
We’re not saying they’re all going to happen, but here’s a few of the craziest potential upsets in the Big 12 for 2016.
10. Iowa State over Texas Tech, Nov. 19
Texas Tech will be coming off a tough stretch that has the team playing four of its final five games of the year on the road, including trips to TCU and Oklahoma State before heading to Iowa State. While the Red Raiders have plenty of talent, a late-season visit to Ames has tripped up plenty of teams before. If the weather is a little rougher than what Tech is used to, first-year Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell could just pull off his first big upset for the Cyclones with Mike Warren and Allen Lazard paving the way.
9. Kansas State over Stanford, Sept. 2
Bill Snyder is a crafty as they come and if anybody can come up with a game plan to slow down all-everything tailback Christian McCaffrey, it’s the Wizard of Manhattan. The Wildcats were better than their record indicated last season because of injuries and they should be fully healthy and primed to compete when they take a trip out West. Stanford is replacing veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan and a host of top defenders so don’t be shocked at all if the defending Pac-12 champion starts out 2016 with a loss.
8. Kansas over Ohio, Sept. 10
In any other Power Five vs. Group of Five game, the Power Five team coming out with a win probably isn’t all that notable. But this is Kansas we’re talking about, which hasn’t won a game since Nov. 8, 2014. If you don’t think that is known in the Jayhawks locker room, you’re kidding yourself. Ohio is a solid MAC team and has a chance to make a run in the East division but it’s the Bobcats’ first road game of the year for a team that has to replace a lot of production (including most of the secondary). Kansas has better talent this year and showed flashes against Texas Tech and TCU last season. It all points to a big FBS win for second-year head coach David Beaty.
7. Pittsburgh over Oklahoma State, Sept. 17
While Oklahoma State is used to seeing a bunch of high-flying offenses in Big 12 play, Pitt will head to Stillwater to show the Cowboys a bit of throwback attack that will remind many in town of the days when Mike Gundy was handing off to Barry Sanders. Not only do the Panthers have a solid option at quarterback in Nathan Peterman to keep defenses honest, but the return of former ACC Player of the Year James Conner should boost a tough running attack that grinds down opponents four and five yards at a time. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi always has an answer to spread attacks on defense so don’t be shocked when the Panthers win a close one on the road.
6. Texas over Cal, Sept. 17
This upcoming season has turned into a bit of a referendum on Charlie Strong’s tenure in Austin and he could buy himself some time on the 40 Acres if he goes into Berkeley and gets a big non-conference win. There’s reason for optimism on this front as Cal is going to be in the middle of a transition year with former No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Jared Goff gone, a new offensive coordinator in charge and a wide-open depth chart at receiver and linebacker. The Longhorns still have to contain former Texas Tech signal-caller Davis Webb but they can use a stacked backfield to run over the Bears and overpower Cal for a big victory.
5. Texas Tech over TCU, Oct. 29
The last time Texas Tech traveled to Fort Worth, it was on the wrong end of an 82-27 shellacking that was even more embarrassing than the score indicated. Last season, the Red Raiders thought they had revenge over the Horned Frogs until an improbable tipped pass gave TCU a 55-52 victory to stun the home crowd. All that may suggest that Tech is due when it comes to this year’s matchup in late October. Kliff Kingsbury has potential Heisman Trophy candidate Patrick Mahomes running the show at quarterback and it stands to reason that if the defense rises to the occasion, the Red Raiders can knock off TCU.
4. SMU over Baylor, Sept. 10
SMU’s first season under head coach Chad Morris wasn’t a success in terms of the overall record but anybody who watched the Mustangs in action knows the team was night-and-day better than the 2014 version. The offense gives everybody fits and QB Matt Davis is back with the potential to put up even bigger numbers. The defense has question marks, sure, but should be improved if nothing else. Baylor will likely roll over FCS opponent Northwestern State in the home opener and should be a little overconfident. Combine that with the significant offseason turmoil the program has gone through and the fact that the team itself has fewer than 70 scholarship players and this has all the makings of the beginning of a big slide for the Bears.
3. Texas over Oklahoma, Oct. 8
The Red River Showdown is almost always one of those games you circle on the calendar when the schedule comes out and the 2016 edition should be no exception. Texas hasn’t held up its end of the bargain against its rivals to the North in terms of overall record but that hasn’t mattered all that much during the annual date at the Cotton Bowl. Charlie Strong pulled out an improbable win last season and should have captured another two years ago before the Sooners snuck out a victory. OU will be coming off a stretch of top-10 opponents in Ohio State and TCU in the three weeks before the Showdown so don’t be shocked if Strong is able to pull out another victory over Bob Stoops and company.
2. Kansas State over TCU, Dec. 3
It’s entirely possible that TCU will enter the final week of the season as a bona fide contender for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But late-season losses typically can knock a team out of championship contention and that could hinder Gary Patterson’s squad after a tough Big 12 slate. Kansas State has almost always given the Horned Frogs a run for their money since the latter joined the Big 12 and that should be the case in 2016. Bill Snyder is always good for a surprise win or two late in the season when nobody expects it and this game fits right in line with that. The Wildcats’ ball-control offense will limit possessions for TCU’s Air Raid attack and they have enough depth on defense to make every snap a dog fight.
1. Houston over Oklahoma, Sept. 3
In terms of shock value, Houston winning its opener against a team in the top five like Oklahoma wouldn’t surprise those that have followed the program under head coach Tom Herman at all. However, in terms of the race for the College Football Playoff, a Cougars win in NRG Stadium would send shockwaves across the national landscape. The Sooners were tripped up by Clemson in the Orange Bowl because they couldn’t contain a dual-threat quarterback and were worn down in the trenches. Greg Ward Jr. isn’t quite Deshaun Watson but he’s close and has a host of weapons back to attack the fresh faces on the OU defense. The Cougars are not just any old Group of Five team, they’re one built to go toe-to-toe with a juggernaut like Oklahoma... and win. Just as importantly, a loss in this one could set the table for a season of doubts for Big 12 teams around the league.
— 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.