Last year the Big 12 looked to be one of the best conferences, at least at the top, with TCU and Baylor heading into 2015 in the top five. It was hard to get any clarification on which team would prevail because the conference back-loaded the schedule, having most of the big games at the end of the year. By that point Oklahoma was on a roll, and Baylor and TCU had been hit with key injuries. What games will determine the Big 12 champ in 2016? Here are the best Big 12 games to look forward to in 2016, along with a couple non-conference games that will keep fans on the edge of their seat.
10. Texas vs. Iowa State (Saturday, October 15)
Texas had an abysmal season in 2015, but nothing was worse than getting shutout 24-0 by the Iowa State Cyclones. The game isn’t in a great spot for Texas, coming after back-to-back weeks versus Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, but I’m guessing the Longhorns won’t want to be embarrassed again.
9. Texas vs. Baylor (Saturday, October 29)
Texas beat Baylor last year, but Baylor having to play its eighteenth string quarterback played a big part in that. Outside of that, Baylor has dominated the series since 2010. The loser of this game will likely be out of the conference race with a month left in the season.
8. Baylor vs. TCU (Saturday, November, 11)
This matchup has featured the conference’s best two teams over the past few seasons. Two years ago it was one of the most exciting games of the past couple years while last year’s couldn’t have been more opposite, thanks to injuries and awful weather. Hopefully we get something closer to the 2014 version between two teams that now expect to compete for conference championships year after year.
7. Baylor vs. Oklahoma State (Saturday, September 24)
Last year Baylor ended Oklahoma State’s undefeated run (10-0) with a 45-35 win in Stillwater. This time it will be each team’s first conference game so both will be hoping to launch an undefeated conference season. Baylor has to replace six starters on each side of the ball so the timing couldn’t be better for a Cowboys team that returns 16. With nine of those starters coming on offense, this game could hit 100 total points.
6. Texas vs. Notre Dame (Saturday, September 3)
Notre Dame absolutely embarrassed Texas last year in the season opener. The Longhorns will try to get revenge on their turf this year but the Irish are expected to be the much better team again in 2016 (7:30 est on ABC). If this game ends similarly to last season’s debacle, it could be the beginning of the end for Charlie Strong in Austin.
5. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 8)
Though Texas has now been down for a while, it always shows up for the Red River Rivalry. This is one where you really can throw records out the window. Last year’s unlikely Longhorns’ win over the Sooners almost cost Oklahoma a trip to the playoff. Oklahoma will likely be favored in this game, but the Longhorns should show improvement this year which means another contested rivalry game with Big 12 championship ramifications.
4. TCU vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 1)
Two years ago TCU’s upset against Oklahoma propelled it to arguably the best season in school history. Though devastated by injuries last year, the Horned Frogs almost derailed the Sooners’ playoff bid in Norman. This year TCU has to reload on offense, and this will be a big game early in the season that determines if TCU’s program has reached “reload not rebuild” status.
3. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, December 3)
Oklahoma State exceeded expectations last year in what was thought to be more of a rebuilding year. Now with 16 starters back (most in the Big 12) the expectation will be to compete for the conference crown. If they can survive a tough conference road slate, this one could decide the Big 12 title. If not, the the Pokes will still seek revenge for the Sooners blasting them in the Bedlam rivalry game a year ago.
2. Oklahoma vs. Ohio State (Saturday, September 17)
Oklahoma gets an early test that could determine its season’s fate. Ohio State could learn the ceiling of its season with just six starters back. Even with some uncertainty between the teams, a non-conference matchup with two Heisman contending quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett) will be must-see television.
1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)
This game has often been a de facto Big 12 Championship game in recent years, and the winner of this one could have the inside track this year as well (if Oklahoma doesn’t perform its usual meltdown in years with high expectations). Both teams have a lot to replace on defense, but with Seth Russell and Baker Mayfield returning, as well as a plethora of skill position talent for each school, neither team should have a problem putting up points.
E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87