Oklahoma and Texas, the two traditional powerhouses in the Big 12 Conference, once again have challenged themselves with the best nonconference football games in the league.
No. 3 Oklahoma opens on the road against No. 13 Houston (13-1 last season) and then two weeks later, the Sooners host Ohio State, who was one game away from the College Football Playoff last season.
OU gets a breather between two potential Top 10 opponents with a home opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
OU coach Bob Stoops and Athletic Director Joe Castiglione don’t shy away from big games against tough opponents.
“It’s always been our view,” Stoops said during Big 12 Media Days. “Joe Castiglione and I setting up the schedule and Joe has always conferred with me on it on who we want to play and I’ve always accepted whatever has come across. We’re not only playing Ohio State these two years and Houston to start the season, but in the previous six seasons we had series with Tennessee, Notre Dame and Florida State.
“We’ve always just believed if you’re going to be a top-tier program and one of the better teams in the country, play ‘like’ teams and challenge yourself. It’s what college football fans all around the country want to see. I know it’s what our fans want to see, as long as you win.
“But in the end, our players are challenged and excited about it as well as, you know, us as a coaching staff.”
Oklahoma State’s schedule is not as difficult and the Cowboys have had more home games. Five of the first six games this season are in Stillwater.
“We’ve played on the road early in the season maybe more so than we should have, for whatever reason,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “So we are excited about being able to start the season at home.”
Texas, which has underachieved in the first two years under Coach Charlie Strong, takes on Notre Dame to start the season and then travels to California for a key Pac-12 matchup. The only easy nonconference game for UT is UTEP.
In contrast, Baylor has three nonconference foes with a combined record of 11-24 (3.7-8 average) last season. Baylor plays SMU, Northwestern State and Rice. It’s not much of a challenge for a team that went 10-3 last year and was one game away from the playoff in 2014.
Iowa State plays three teams that had a combined record of 32-9 (10.7-3 average) last season and that includes two in-state rivals (Iowa and Northern Iowa).
Oklahoma State is in the middle of the pack, with only one nonconference game (Pittsburgh) that seems to present much of a challenge.
Here is a ranking of the 30 nonconference games and their projected degree of difficulty.
- Ohio State (12-1) at Oklahoma (11-2)
Even though No. 5 Ohio State lost a bunch of starters to the NFL, they return their best running and quarterback. This is one of the strongest inter-conference games of the year. Oklahoma should be favored because they are playing at home and the return of quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Samaje Perine.
- Arkansas (8-5) at TCU (11-2)
TCU was No. 7 last season and might have won the Big 12 except for a rash of injuries. Arkansas won four of its last five games, including wins over Kansas State, Missouri, Mississippi and LSU.
- Notre Dame (10-3) at Texas (5-7)
Notre Dame was very close to making the four-team championship playoff last season. Texas beat Oklahoma and Baylor last season but lost three of the last four (against Texas Tech, West Virginia and Iowa State).
- Oklahoma (11-2) at Houston (13-1)
The Cougars won the American Athletic Conference and ended the year ranked No. 8, just three spots behind OU. With a couple of breaks, Houston could have been the first mid-major to make the new playoff.
- Kansas State (6-7) at Stanford (12-2)
No. 3 Stanford won four of its last five games, including upsets over No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 20 USC. Kansas State lost to Arkansas in the bowl game.
- BYU (9-4) at West Virginia (8-5)
West Virginia closed strong, winning four out of its last five including a bowl win over Arizona State.
- Missouri (5-7) at West Virginia (8-5)
This is a good match because the teams are so close in talent.
- Texas (7-6) at California (8-5)
A Longhorn win here would really help the Big 12 in its standing nationally.
- Texas Tech (7-6) at Arizona State (6-7)
This is a balanced game and the winner will help their conference in national standings.
- Iowa State (3-9) at Iowa (12-2)
Should Iowa State, with a new coach, upset Iowa, that would be a big boost to the Cyclones recruiting and bowl chances.
- San Jose State (11-3) at Iowa State (3-9)
Iowa State is playing three nonconference teams with a lot of winning experience.
- Pittsburgh (8-5) at Oklahoma State (10-3)
OSU finished ranked No. 20. This is the toughest nonconference test for the Cowboys, who should win even if the running game has not yet come around.
- South Dakota State (8-4) at TCU (11-2)
South Dakota State is a powerhouse and could catch TCU napping, especially since the Horned Frogs are breaking in a new quarterback.
- Kansas (0-12) at Memphis (9-4)
Coach Justin Fuente left Memphis for Virginia Tech and all-star quarterback Paxson Lynch is with the Denver Broncos. Kansas has improved its roster and this could be a great win for the Jayhawks.
- SMU (2-10) at Baylor (10-3)
This should be a cakewalk for the Bears.
- SMU (2-10) at TCU (11-2)
SMU should reassign its scheduler.
- UTEP (5-7) at Texas (5-7)
This is the best chance for the Longhorns to get a nonconference win.
- Louisiana-Monroe (2-11) at Oklahoma (11-2)
The Sooners get a breather between Houston and Ohio State.
- Central Michigan (7-6) at Oklahoma State (10-3)
Another direction school victory for the Cowboys.
- Ohio (8-5) at Kansas (0-12)
Kansas gets to measure its progress against a mid-major school.
- Youngstown State (5-6) at West Virginia (8-5)
This is an important game for the Mountaineers recruiting in Ohio.
- Stephen F. Austin (4-7) at Texas Tech (7-6)
The Red Raiders can probably name their own score in this one.
- Northern Iowa (9-4) at Iowa State (3-9)
Another in-state rival that the Cyclones need to beat.
- Rice (5-7) at Baylor (10-3)
Baylor won’t need the freshmen they lost in this one.
- Southeastern Louisiana (4-6-1) at Oklahoma State (10-3)
An OSU loss here would be a major upset.
- Louisiana Tech (9-4) at Texas Tech (7-6)
This might be a better game than reputations suggest.
- Northwestern State (4-7) at Baylor (10-3)
Games like this kept Baylor out of the playoff two years ago.
- Rhode Island (1-10) at Kansas (0-12)
Somebody has to win this game.
- Florida Atlantic (3-9) at Kansas State (6-7)
How do the Wildcats get fired up for this game after playing Stanford?
- Missouri State (1-10) at Kansas State (6-7)
KSU doesn’t need its hall of fame coach to win this one.