MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Big 12 was mighty proud that nine teams participated in bowl games last season, and some of its coaches claimed the nine-game round-robin is a tougher slate than teams face in the divisioned superconferences.
But football programs and their reputations cannot live by conference games alone, and that’s why it’s a shame some Big 12 teams are trotting out nonleague opponents that don’t warrant watching from the couch much less battling stadium traffic.
Sure, many major-college teams are guilty of feasting on cupcakes, but season ticket-buyers have a reasonable expectation to see their school play at least one sexy intersectional matchup per season. Anything less is downright unsportsmanlike, and in the case of the Big 12—which lacks the year-end splash of a conference championship game—it potentially undermines the perception of league’s strength.
With an eye toward this fall’s opponents and those of upcoming seasons, let’s call out the Big 12 teams most guilty of padding their win totals and laud the ones willing to play real competition in September:
LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR
Check out the nonleague “tests”—if that term even qualifies—awaiting Baylor the next eight seasons:
2013: Wofford, Buffalo, La.-Monroe
2014: SMU, Northwestern State, at Buffalo
2015: at SMU, Lamar, Rice
2016: Northwestern State, SMU, at Rice
2017: at SMU, Texas-San Antonio, Duke
2018: at Texas-San Antonio, at Duke, SMU
2019: at SMU, Texas-San Antonio, at Rice
2020: Liberty, at SMU and TBA
Over an eight-year span, Baylor has five games against FCS teams and only two against a team (Duke) from the “power five” conferences. The highlight is freaking Duke. That’s paltry. (2013 grade: F … Long-term: F).
Don’t snicker, Kansas fans. Your team’s only brushes with power-5 opponents over the next six seasons involve a trip to mighty Duke in 2014 and a home-and-home with Rutgers in 2015-16. This year’s mix—South Dakota, Rice and Louisiana Tech—lacks heavy-hitters, though Tech may be favored against the Jayhawks. (2013 grade: F … Long-term: D-minus)
Kansas State gets kudos for a home date against Auburn in 2014 but loses points for canceling a home-and-home against Virginia Tech. What’s left for Wildcats fans to look forward to as Bill Snyder creeps toward retirement? How about the murderers’ row of Charlotte, Central Arkansas, Bowling Green, South Dakota, Stephen F. Austin and a three-game set against Texas-San Antonio. This fall’s lineup brings Louisiana-Lafayette and UMass to Manhattan, along with North Dakota State—the defending FCS champion, but come on now. (2013 grade: F … Long-term grade: D-minus)
Texas Tech fans should rejoice over the recently contracted Arkansas series that begins in 2014, which will represent the Red Raiders’ first regular-season matchup against a team from a BCS conference since—wait for it—2003. Not much to excite fans about this year’s slate of SMU, Stephen F. Austin and Texas State. (2013 grade: F … Long-term grade: D)
PASSABLE, BUT ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Iowa State is bailed out by its annual rivalry game against Iowa, though the Hawkeyes barely qualify as a power-conference team many years. This fall the Cyclones visit Tulsa, which could be tricky, and host Northern Iowa—a team that pops up seven times in the next 11 seasons. Between now and 2023, there are home-and-homes with Toledo, Akron, San Jose State and UNLV. I nearly fell asleep typing that paragraph. (2013 grade: C … Long-term grade: C-minus)
A scheduling flap at Oklahoma State led Mike Gundy to flirt with the Tennessee gig. (Gundy reportedly didn’t like his athletics director piling too much meat onto OSU’s nonleague plate.) As it stands, the Cowboys still aren’t biting off too much—with only four power programs appearing over the next nine seasons. Those include neutral-site games against Mississippi State and Florida State and a home-and-home with Boise State in 2018 and 2021. Will the Broncos still be relevant by then? Along with MSU, this year’s mix includes Texas-San Antonio and Lamar. (2013 grade: C-plus … Long-term grade: D-plus)
West Virginia receives only partial credit for the Maryland series, considering the Terps are more Duke-like than Clemson-like and have only one Top 25 finish in the past eight years. The other two opponents this fall are FCS member William & Mary and FBS newcomer Georgia State, which got drilled by William & Mary last year. Future matchups against Alabama (2014) and BYU (2016) are more like it, and fans are already practicing insults for the two-game set against Virginia Tech in 2021-22. As of now, 2018 contains only East Carolina and 2019-2020 are wide open, so the long-term score could fluctuate dramatically. Let’s also hold up on the Penn State series, which hasn’t been finalized. (2013 grade: C-minus … Long-term grade: C-plus)
As a private institution with a small enrollment, TCU could schedule softies a la Baylor, and ’tis true the Frogs also play SMU annually in a game where the student sections heckle one another over the number of zeroes in their trust funds. But TCU also isn’t afraid to man-up and test itself, such as this season’s opener against LSU at Jerry World. Later come home-and-home series against Minnesota (2014-15), Arkansas (2016-17) and Ohio State (2018-19). (2013 grade: A … Long-term grade: B-plus)
You’d expect the richest football program in America to line up some serious heavyweight challengers and Texas has done so. This fall the Horns visit BYU and host Ole Miss (with a New Mexico State snack thrown in), and the next 10 seasons really bring some must-see games—four against Notre Dame, home-and-homes with USC, Ohio State and Cal, and single games against UCLA and Arkansas. (2013 grade: B-plus … Long-term grade: A)
Like its Red River rival, Oklahoma recognizes the need to play big-boy football, hence this year’s excursion to South Bend. (The Sooners also have home games against Louisiana-Monroe and Tulsa, so at least there’s no FCS fodder to brutalize.) In subsequent years, there are two-game sets versus Tennessee, Ohio State, LSU and, thank you sweet baby Jesus, a renewal of the Nebraska series in 2021-22. (2013 grade: A … Long-term grade: A)