Non-conference games in the Big 12 get started in full swing this week, but conference play is right around the corner. Multiple teams could feasibly contend for the conference crown, as the Big 12 looks to be about as wide open as it’s ever been, making for a lot of great games this fall.
With so many interesting matchups, which ones should grab your attention? Obviously, rivalry games are always a good bet, but what other conference contests are there? Below, we take a look and rank the five Big 12 games that you should watch in 2018, outlining the details of the matchup and its significance.
1) #16 TCU VS #7 OKLAHOMA (10/20)
This rematch of last season’s Big 12 championship game could be replayed six weeks later in Arlington if what most prognosticators predict proves true. Many publications have the Sooners and Horned Frogs as the two best teams in the conference, so this mid-season contest could potentially have big implications.
A victory for TCU in this game would represent their first win over Oklahoma since 2014 and set them up to win their first undisputed conference championship in the Big 12. The Sooners will hope that this season is basically “business as usual” and that this game has the same result as both of last year’s matchups against the Horned Frogs.
The battle of the headsets will be particularly interesting in this one, especially given the quarterback situation in Norman. Head coach Lincoln Riley will have to work without Baker Mayfield as his on-the-field general for the first time since he’s been at Oklahoma, so Riley will probably have to put in even more film study in 2018 to prepare for Gary Patterson’s defense.
With the inexperience on both of these teams, coaching will probably play a much bigger role in this game the second time around, when Oklahoma has to travel to Fort Worth. We don’t know what the records will be in late October, but both head coaches will have something to prove in this one.
2) IOWA STATE VS #7 OKLAHOMA (9/15)
When the Cyclones beat the Sooners 38-31 last year, it was the biggest upset in the Big 12. That game signaled that head coach Matt Campbell was making real progress in Ames, and put Oklahoma’s playoff chances in doubt.
The Sooners have an shot at revenge here, but the Cyclones will be hungry for a second straight upset and this one’s away from Norman. For Iowa State, getting the win would further establish that this is a different program under Campbell. A win for Oklahoma, who will no doubt open as a solid favorite, would put the Sooners at 1-0 in the Big 12 and on track for another championship season.
Being at home definitely helps the Cyclones, but the early time slot does them no favors. Can Jack Trice Stadium be energized enough for the 11:00 AM kickoff? We’ll have to wait and see, but the players should be ready to go, especially since this is the first matchup of two Big 12 teams in 2018.
3) #17 WEST VIRGINIA VS #16 TCU (11/10)
This game came down to the wire last season in Forth Worth, and it could be a close contest once again. This time around there could be conference championship implications, as each team is considered a possible contender to make it to AT&T Stadium in December.
For the Horned Frogs, this will be the first game they play outside of the state of Texas. Count on Gary Patterson to have his bunch prepared for some chilly West Virginia weather, but Morgantown is always a tough road environment.
The Mountaineers will likely welcome the chance to get this one at home, since it is the second in a string of games including Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. West Virginia could definitely be undefeated entering that stretch, but can they make it through these four games undefeated?
Upper echelon college football teams find ways to win in November, so this matchup will be huge for both of these teams.
4) KANSAS STATE VS #23 TEXAS (9/29)
Last season, this game went into double overtime in Austin, and gave Texas head coach Tom Herman a major win in the Big 12. This year, both of these teams are looking to replace players who left early for the NFL, but overall each squad will probably be similar to their 2017 version. That could make for another close, exciting game between two long time conference foes.
The Texas Longhorns have one of the more difficult September slates in the Big 12, matching up against USC, TCU, and Kansas State all in the same month. The Longhorns haven’t escaped September undefeated since 2012 and they haven’t beaten Kansas State in Manhattan since 2002. If head coach Tom Herman wants to be the man who brings Texas “back,” winning this game would help exorcise a lot of demons for them.
The Wildcats also do not have an easy lineup on their schedule, having to play two AP Top 25 teams before the Longhorns arrive. If Kansas State hopes to play the role of Big 12 dark horse this season, this game will help catapult them there. Should they beat No. 17 West Virginia on the road the week before, the Wildcats could really announce themselves by beating a possibly still ranked Texas.
However each team manages their schedule up to September 29th, this contest feels as though it could mark a turning point in the 2018 season.
5) OKLAHOMA STATE VS. TEXAS TECH (9/22)
When the Pokes visited Lubbock in 2017, that nail-biter ended with Mason Rudolph running the ball in for a touchdown to seal the victory. Fast forward to now, when Oklahoma State is working to replace Rudolph and a host of other stars in Stillwater. They’ll host Texas Tech in what will be the conference opener for both teams.
By that time, Texas Tech will have navigated a non-conference schedule involving Houston and Ole Miss, so the Red Raiders will have a good idea of where their hopes for bowl eligibility stand. Kliff Kingsbury’s squad might actually be led by their defense this season, which returns practically everyone from last year’s unit. Offensively, Kingsbury could very well have a quarterback controversy brewing in Lubbock, so that will be a story line to watch as well.
The same could almost be said for Oklahoma State, whose new starter, quarterback Taylor Cornelius, certainly has teammates waiting in the wings should he falter. Another new face to know for the Pokes is defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who head coach Mike Gundy hired in the off-season. The Red Raiders will be the first Big 12 offense he’ll face in 2018, so it will be intriguing to see what Knowles is able to draw up.