The Big 12’s non-conference performance last season helped restore some of the league’s flailing reputation. Wins like Oklahoma over Ohio State and TCU over Arkansas had Big 12 teams walking a little taller at the end of the year.
The league’s non-conference schedule again features a number of prove-it games for bragging rights versus its peers. The headliner is taking place on Sept. 15 at AT&T Stadium, one of three titanic matchups for Big 12 teams in week three.
1. TCU vs. Ohio State (Sept. 15 in Arlington, Texas)
The Buckeyes have a big non-conference game against a Big 12 team for the third year in a row. After splitting its home-and-home series with Oklahoma in 2016 and '17, Ohio State is tangling with Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs this fall.
OSU’s win over OU two years ago helped vault Urban Meyer’s team into the College Football Playoff. Beating TCU this season would give the Buckeyes another nice notch in their belts to show the selection committee at the end of the year.
2. Texas vs. USC (Sept. 15)
This will serve as a big measuring stick for Tom Herman and his team. If Texas is back, this is the kind of game the Longhorns should win.
Following the departures of quarterback Sam Darnold, running back Ronald Jones II and receiver Deontay Burnett, this Trojans team projects to be worse than the one UT nearly beat last season. A week after a road trip to Stanford, USC should be there for the taking.
3. Kansas State vs. Mississippi State (Sept. 8)
This game is flying under the radar of 2018’s marquee matchups. Too bad because it’s as intriguing as trying to figure out the rationale behind Bill Snyder’s weekly windbreaker selection.
MSU should have one of its best teams in recent memory, but plenty of good teams have taken an L in Manhattan against overmatched KSU squads. Keep a close eye on the battle in the trenches between the Wildcats’ big uglies and MSU’s defensive line.
4. Oklahoma State vs. Boise State (Sept. 15)
The Broncos built their giant-killing reputation on games like this, and they’re catching OSU in a vulnerable spot. The Cowboys need to identify an aerial tandem to replace Mason Rudolph and James Washington, which is a tall order so early in the year.
Boise State has to win this game to have any shot at postseason grandeur. Bryan Harsin’s team will be sky high.
5. West Virginia at NC State (Sept. 15)
The Mountaineers’ early slate doesn’t do the team any favors, with two of their first three games away from home. That could test WVU’s depth.
Expect a shootout here between dueling QBs Will Grier and Ryan Finley. That sounds like the kind of game WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen wants.
6. Iowa State at Iowa (Sept. 8)
Even though the Cyclones lost to their in-state rivals last season, that 44-41 overtime barnburner offered a sign of what was to come in Ames. Iowa State went on to stun the country by finishing in the top half of the Big 12.
ISU will want revenge for last year’s heartbreaking loss.
7. West Virginia vs. Tennessee (Sept. 1 in Charlotte)
The Volunteers make their debut under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt with a trip to Charlotte to face WVU’s high-octane offense. No one knows what to expect out of the Volunteers, but chances are that there will be some growing pains. That makes this contest a little less daunting for the Mountaineers.
8. Oklahoma vs. UCLA (Sept. 8)
Chip Kelly’s first major road game in his return to college football comes in week two when the Bruins travel to Norman. His offense could pose a serious problem for OU’s beleaguered defense.
With so much upheaval at UCLA in the changeover to Kelly’s regime, the Sooners shouldn’t have much trouble in this game. If it turns into an up-and-down affair, though, things could get weird for OU.
9. Texas vs. Maryland (Sept. 1 in Landover, Maryland)
The Terrapins got Texas off to a rough start in 2017 by shellacking the Longhorns in their house. Maryland played like a top 25 team, while UT played like a team trying to find its way under a new head coach.
This year, they open at FedEx Field, and UT will want payback for that embarrassment.
10. Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss (Sept. 1 in Houston)
Here’s another under-the-radar matchup pitting an SEC team against one from the Big 12. These two teams are a little lower in the pecking order than Mississippi State and Kansas State, though.
There should be offense by the bucket loads on the fast indoor track at NRG Stadium. The Red Raiders will be coming to play with an experienced defense, which could make the difference for Tech.
-- Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.