Big 12 Football 2011: Ranking the Big 12's Toughest Non-Conference Road Games
In the modern era of college football, the importance of a "home game" cannot be underestimated. It is lucrative for the school, supports the local economy, energizes the fanbase and, most importantly, gives the home team its greatest chance of winning.
The non-conference schedule is set solely at the discretion of the competing schools. Every team's goal is to qualify for a postseason bowl, and to do that you have to win games. With that in mind, the major conference programs have very little incentive to schedule difficult opponents.
There are basically four philosophies at work in the non-conference portion of the schedule: 1) We'll play anyone, anytime. 2) We'll play no one who can hurt us—ever. 3) We'll play a good team, but only on a neutral field. 4) We'll play a good team, but only at home.
The compromise from No. 4 is the "home and home"—a give-and-take series between opponents in which each secures a high-profile non-conference home game against a quality foe. This generates buzz on campus, in the media and among recruits, and brings in big-time dollars from alumni and boosters.
The "home and home" is alluring, but only to an extent. That's why no Big 12 team will venture out on the road more than one time before conference play begins in late September.
Here's my ranking of each Big 12 team's non-conference road game ...
10. Baylor: The Bears Stick with Home Games
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OK, so I didn't want Art Briles' team to feel left out, but Baylor will be playing all three of its non-conference games in Waco.
But that's not to say they haven't hit the road in recent years. On the contrary. Baylor played at both TCU and Rice last season to start a home-and-home series with each school.
Before that, the Bears had journeyed halfway across the country in games against Wake Forest and Connecticut in '09 and '08, respectively.
So I'm willing to give them a pass on this one. Especially since they host TCU in the season opener on Sept. 2.
9. Texas A&M vs. Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 1
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OK, I know-—a trip to Cowboys Stadium to play the Razorbacks isn't exactly a road game. But it's as close as the Aggies get this season.
This is actually the third game of a 10-game series booked through 2018 at the Jerry Dome in Arlington, Texas.
The "Southwest Classic" has been pretty lopsided so far, as Arkansas has outscored A&M 71-36 for a 2-0 series lead.
Ironically, with Texas A&M's announced departure from the Big 12, this may be the only matchup from the Aggies' current schedule that survives into the 2012 season—if the SEC proves to be their new home.
If A&M is SEC-bound, it actually might be a good idea to start beating some SEC teams. The Aggies are 0-4 against the SEC under head coach Mike Sherman.
8. Texas Tech at New Mexico on Sept. 17
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Hey! You read it right—an actual road game!
New Mexico had a rough go of it last year, finishing the 2010 campaign 1-11, including a 52-17 thumping by Tech at home. Texas Tech leads the all-time series 35-6-2 in this border rivalry that dates back to 1931.
The Red Raiders will travel to face the Lobos in Albuquerque for the second season in a row, which is a little odd, to be honest. This game was originally slated to kick off in Lubbock, but was moved when Tech dropped a scheduled showdown with TCU.
Confused? Me too.
The Red Raiders essentially gave away a home game. On top of that, next year's game also is scheduled for Albuquerque. These things can change, so we'll see if that really happens.
7. Oklahoma State at Tulsa on Sept. 17
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These in-state foes will meet for the 72nd time. Oklahoma State holds a 39-27-5 all-time edge against the Golden Hurricane, has won the last four meetings and is 8-2 in the series since 1992. However, both of those losses came at Tulsa.
Last year's meeting was an absolute beat-down, as the Cowboys jumped out to a 58-7 lead midway through the third quarter en route to 65-28 victory. The two teams put up a combined 1,150 yards of offense, and those kinds of fireworks could be on tap this time around.
Tulsa rebounded from the loss with an 8-1 run to finish the 2010 season at 10-3, which included wins over Notre Dame, Houston, Southern Miss and Hawaii.
6. Kansas at Georgia Tech on Sept. 17
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There are a lot of folks in Lawrence who still can't figure out how the Jayhawks pulled off the upset of then-No. 15 Georgia Tech last season in the first leg of this home-and-home series.
But Kansas came out with tenacity, forcing the Yellow Jackets out of their run-oriented game plan in favor of throwing the football.
It's also likely that Tech simply discounted Kansas—after all, the Hawks had dropped their opener the prior week to North Dakota State of the FCS in a 6-3 barn burner.
To top it off, Georgia Tech just wasn't that good last season, dropping five of its last six, including an Independence Bowl loss to Air Force.
5. Kansas State at Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 24
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This game looked a lot tougher for the Wildcats before the world came crashing down on Miami. Now it's a question of what kind of team the Hurricanes are able to field and where their thoughts will be when K-State comes calling.
Kansas State faces Eastern Washington and Kent State at home before journeying to South Florida, so it's safe to say this game has been circled for some time. It's also a homecoming of sorts for 'Cats linebacker Arthur Brown, who played two seasons (and offseasons) at Miami.
Miami will complete this home-and-home series next year in Manhattan.
4. Iowa State at UConn on Sept. 16
"Whaaaat?" you say. "Iowa State at UConn is No. 4?"
Absolutely. The Cyclones are carrying the Big 12 banner cross-country to take on the defending Big East champs. Sure, it's not a game with huge national implications, but it is a prime-time Friday night matchup, so you'll check it out.
This game is actually the second portion of a home-and-home series that began with a 37-20 Huskies' triumph at Iowa State on Nov. 23, 2002! That's quite a gap—most of the current players were not even teen-agers at that time.
Paul Rhoads is entering his third season in Ames, and this test will provide a glimpse of how capable State is of competing at conference time. UConn enters with a new coach in Paul Pasqualoni and must replace its starting quarterback, running back and leading tackler.
A win here for the Cyclones makes both them and the Big 12 as a whole look that much better.
3. Texas at UCLA on Sept. 17
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Here is Texas' opportunity to begin righting everything that went wrong last season. The Bruins' 34-12 win in Austin last September was an absolute shocker at the time. It still should be, considering UCLA finished the season just 4-8.
The Longhorns conclude this home-and-home series by returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time since falling to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in January 2010.
If he's still the starter at that point, quarterback Garrett Gilbert would like to exorcise his own Pasadena demons—namely, four interceptions in that impromptu Rose Bowl debut against the Tide after Colt McCoy went down with a shoulder injury.
Rick Neuheisel is under intense pressure to produce a winner in his fourth season with the Bruins, while the Longhorns will look to set a more aggressive tone than was displayed in last year's meeting.
One other thing to note: Texas travels to California after a difficult home game against BYU, which visits Austin on Sept. 10. How would a potential 1-2 start fare for Mack Brown?
2. Missouri at Arizona State on Sept. 9
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The Tigers are also eager to shed some bad memories in the early part of their schedule. Missouri ventures into Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium for the second time in its last three games to try to erase the pain of a 27-24 loss to Iowa in the Insight Bowl last December.
Mizzou's biggest offensive question mark is at quarterback, where sophomore James Franklin is taking over for the departed Blaine Gabbert. Franklin will have to learn on the fly as Arizona State features a talented group of linebackers and defensive backs.
Missouri has done relatively well in non-conference road games under Gary Pinkel, with wins over Mississippi in 2007 and Nevada in 2009, which was its last true road trip outside of the Big 12.
This first leg of a two-year home-and-home series is also a Friday night showcase, kicking off at 9:30 p.m. Central time.
1. Oklahoma at Florida State on Sept. 17
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And here's the big one—it should be a doozy.
How rare is a game like this? It's only one of two non-conference meetings between a Big 12 team and a ranked opponent away from home this season—the other being Texas A&M and Arkansas. And it's the only one that involves visiting another team's campus.
Florida State is currently ranked No. 6 by the AP and sits at No. 5 in the Coaches poll. Oklahoma, as you may know, is No. 1 in both rankings.
This is the second half of a home-and-home series that began last year in Norman, when Boomer Sooner circled its wagons with precision in knocking off the Seminoles 47-17.
Second-year head coach Jimbo Fisher would like nothing more than to take down the No. 1 Sooners—in their first-ever trip to Tallahassee—to mark his emergence from the long shadow of coaching legend Bobby Bowden.
And this is most certainly the venue in which Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones can make an early statement in his pursuit of the Heisman Trophy, as the attention of the college football shifts here in the third Saturday in September.