The opening weekend of the college football season has plenty to look forward to. There is Alabama vs. Florida State, Michigan vs. Florida, LSU vs. BYU and plenty more. But as we move along on Labor Day Weekend, there are only two games on Sunday. Texas A&M @ UCLA and West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, both games kick off at 7:30 E.T. (FOX and ABC, respectively), but regardless, with only two games on the schedule, college football eyes will be focused on both of these games. As the Big 12 continues to battle for national respect amongst the Power 5 conferences, this is the chance for the conference to get itself some good press to kick off the season.
When the West Virginia Mountaineers meet the Virginia Tech Hokies at FedEx Field, it will be the team picked 6th in the Big 12 against the the team picked to finish 2nd in the Coastal Division of the ACC. I’ve written and spoken extensively abut how I believe West Virginia will easily finish in the top half of the Big 12 conference, possibly even top three. But from a national perspective, if the Mountaineers can go out there and beat a team that many believe will win the Coastal Division, or finish a close second to Miami, it would be a huge boost for the Big 12 as conference.
Most of the sportsbooks I found had West Virginia anywhere from a 3.5 to 4.5 point underdog heading into the game. A win wouldn’t be a massive upset or anything of that nature, but it would get the non-conference season off on the right foot for the Big 12, which it desperately needs.
On top of that, the Hokies are in the ACC, which has recently been touting itself as the best conference in America. Clemson won last season’s National Championship, and at ACC Media Days last month, commissioner John Swofford said, “we had the strongest football conference.” Then several coaches, including Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, came out to support the arguement, saying,“I think we’ve established ourselves as the premier conference in college football.” I think a case can certainly be made for that. But if so, then their teams picked near the top of the standings should beat teams from other conferences projected in the middle, right?
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech is one of three Big 12 – ACC games on the schedule this fall, along with Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh and Baylor at Duke (I almost counted Texas vs. Maryland, stupid conference realignment). Both those are solid games, but the Big 12 teams should take wins in both of them.
If the Big 12 can go 3-0 against the ACC, and Oklahoma can pick off Ohio State or Texas beats USC, then the Big 12 will be able to declare the non-conference season a solid one (assuming every other team playing Power 5 opponents don’t lose).
However the WVU – Tech game feels that much more important because of the exclusive spot it holds with one of only two games on the schedule for the entire day. The following weekend is Oklahoma @ Ohio State, which will be enormous, but it will be on the same time as Notre Dame vs. Georgia, Auburn at Clemson, USC vs. Stanford and about 20 other games that could take fans away from the Horseshoe. In Week 3, Texas at USC will go up against the first weekend with several SEC conference games kicking off, plus the likes of Florida State vs. Miami.
With the Big 12 is looking to turn the page and get itself back to being considered one of the better conferences in America, it always begins in two places: bowl season and non-conference play. The conference went 4-2 last bowl season, including 3-1 against the SEC and Pac-12, while allowing the fewest points per game of any conference during bowl season.
The Big 12 must continue that momentum from last year’s postseason. And it all begins with arguably the most important Big 12 non-conference game of the year: Sunday, September 3rd at FedEx Field in Hyattsville, Maryland.
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