As we look forward to the upcoming Big 12 football season, several games immediately jump off the schedule games to watch. Mainstays such as Red River and Bedlam are of course circled, and HCS’ Derek Duke recently included several others in his list of six games that could host ESPN’s College Game Day. However, there are plenty of Big 12 games with the potential to be great that ESPN would never consider as a potential host for Game Day and that even Big 12 fans might overlook at first glance.
The stage is being set, the lights are being hung, and the curtain will rise on the 2021 season in just a few weeks. Here’s a look at three early Big 12 games that are either somewhat or completely under the radar but have the potential to be epic battles:
September 25: Kansas State at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma hosts West Virginia; Iowa State travels to face Baylor; Texas hosts Texas Tech – while these three games will have the week’s spotlight in the Big 12, the best game of the week will likely be played in Stillwater.
The K-State/Oklahoma State series dates back to 1908, the same year Earnest Shackleton set sail on the Nimrod for his famous expedition of Antarctica. More recently, Oklahoma State just slipped past the Wildcats in Manhattan last season, 20-18, and is on a two-game winning streak in the series. K-State’s last win in Stillwater came in 2017, but that was the Cats’ first win in Stillwater since 1999 during a stretch when KSU won nine straight versus the Cowboys.
Since KSU capped off that nine-game win streak, the series has been extremely competitive with half of the 14 meetings since 2002 being decided by five points or less, and nine being decided by seven points or less. Expect this season’s edition to be another close battle.
Oklahoma State’s QB Spencer Sanders is a year wiser; OSU’s offensive line should be greatly improved after dealing with injuries and transfers last season; and OSU’s defense should continue is upward trajectory from last season as the offense looks to reload at the receiver positions. K-State replaced all five starters along the offensive line and lost its starting QB, Skylar Thompson, last season; now KSU is up to ten-deep along the O-line, has Thompson back as a super-senior, and Cats head coach Chris Klieman stated in a recent fall camp media appearance that he feels this is the best the team has looked during his tenure in Manhattan.
Buckle-up. It’s going to be a slugfest in Stillwater.
October 2: Texas at TCU
Most of the national attention focused on the Big 12 during this week will be towards Oklahoma’s bid to avenge its losses over the past two seasons to Kansas State. That game in Manhattan should be a fun one, but Fort Worth will play host to a game with an even more intriguing revenge plot.
Texas and TCU have been playing each other in football snice 1897, the year William McKinley was sworn in as the 25th President of the United States. The 2020 edition of the game saw the Horned Frogs knock the Longhorns out of the Top 10 by defeating Texas for the seventh time in TCU’s nine seasons as a Big 12 member, 33-31. The home loss was made more painful for Texas as they fumbled away a chance to take the lead with under three minutes to play when Keontay Ingram lost the ball on first and goal from the one-yard-line.
Get your popcorn ready because this season’s match-up in Fort Worth is going to be an emotion-charged classic. Both teams will have extra motivation entering the game as Texas has once again put TCU’s conference affiliation in peril, and University of Texas President, Jay Hartzell, recently took this shot from Texas State Senator, Lois Kolkhorst: “three [sic] and seven versus the Horned Frogs [. . .], so maybe your fanbase would rather lose to Alabama than TCU.” Note: UT is actually 2-7 versus TCU since TCU joined the Big 12 in 2012.
The coaches can say what they will about this game being as important as any other, and Sarkisian can say that he and his players don’t care what any politician says to the university’s president, but we all know that’s just coach-speak. Both teams have this game circled, and emotions will be high. Expect a hard-hitting, back-and-forth battle that may leave a bitter taste in one fanbase’s mouth for years to come.
Shakespeare couldn’t have composed a better revenge story, and both teams are going to pour everything they have into this game.
October 9: West Virginia at Baylor
This is Red River week, and even more attention than usual will be on the Cotton Bowl as Oklahoma and Texas battle for the Golden Hat. Even Paul Finebaum and SEC fans will be compelled to tune in. However, while the eyes of defense-loving SEC country will be on Red River, the best defensive battle of the day will be played in Waco.
This series still has the bloom of youth upon it as the two schools didn’t meet on the gridiron until WVU joined the Big 12 in 2012. The last two games in the series, however, have had the look and feel of a long and bitter rivalry. Last season, the Mountaineers used two overtimes to defeat the Bears in Morgantown, 27-21. The 2019 game in Waco saw West Virginia sack Baylor QB Charlie Brewer eight times, but the Bears narrowly escaped with a Thursday night 17-14 win in what then Baylor head coach Matt Rhule called a “tremendous defensive game.”
While the 2021 edition of this game will be under the national radar with Red River garnering all of the attention for the Big 12 (and SEC) and TCU at Texas Tech likely capturing more interest among casual Big 12 fans, it is definitely must-see Big 12 TV. Baylor and WVU will again feature two of the better defenses in the league, and both offenses should take steps forward this season.
Although WVU is probably the more complete team, Baylor’s homefield advantage makes this something of a toss-up game, and both teams will have it circled as one they need to win to reach their goals for the season. If you love defense, high stakes, and seeing two teams that play each other well go at it, don’t miss this game.
If this game is anything like the last two between Baylor and WVU, and it should be, it’s going to be one of the best games of the weekend – no golden cowboy hat needed.
The three games spotlighted above, along with their more high-profile contemporaries, only gets us through the first two of five Saturdays in October. Clearly, an epic Big 12 season is in the making.
The Big 12 should be a loaded league this season with every team outside of Lawrence, KS, having the potential to land more than a few blows. Oklahoma and Iowa State are the favorites, and many, including Phil Steele, believe Oklahoma has the potential to win the whole college football enchilada this season, but there are certainly no guarantees for either team.
If any team escapes the Big 12 with less than two losses this season, that team (or both teams) should be a shoo-in for the playoffs. I would argue that even a two-loss Big 12 champion will have a solid playoff argument.
Regardless of the details of how it all goes down, the Big 12 will undoubtably offer up a season to remember, and all we need do is kick back and enjoy the show.