In this post we’ll look at one game from each team’s schedule that I think could make or break their season. Keep in mind that these games won’t always feature the best team on the schedule, but I think they’ll all be crucial to the overall success of each team’s campaign.
9/24 – Baylor vs Oklahoma State – McLane Stadium
Baylor has had a very long couple of months. Art Briles is out the door, along with over half of what was shaping up to be the best recruiting class in school history. Interim head coach Jim Grobe and Co. have a huge early season opportunity to wash off some of that stink and show the rest of the conference that it’s not all dark days ahead. Oklahoma State figures to be a very solid team this year, with many “experts” picking them to shake up the pecking order that’s established itself over the past few years and challenge Oklahoma for a conference title. A win against the Cowboys would likely see Baylor to 4-0 heading into October and would be a huge statement of intent to teams like Ok State, West Virginia, or Texas Tech who might be looking to usurp a spot a bit closer to the head of the conference table.
9/10 – Iowa State at Iowa – Kinnick Stadium
I love early season OOC battles. I almost made the Missouri game my pick for WVU, but alas, there are two others whose reckoning is at hand. As for this game, it’s a big in-state rivalry with a team that spent most of last year being severely overrated. Last year’s contest can’t have left a good taste in Iowa State’s mouth (probably also describes their season in general, really), and was tied with about 3 minutes to go before two late touchdowns saw the Hawkeyes through the finish line, but the Cyclones won’t have to wait long this year for their chance at revenge. A win in Kinnick in week 2 would mark a great start to their 2016 campaign and make the Big 10 look kinda shitty in the process. I’d feel better if they were playing it in Hilton Coliseum, but I still think Iowa State can walk in there and pull off the upset.
12/3 – Kansas at Kansas State – Bill Snyder Family Stadium
You don’t want to throw an Oklahoma or a Baylor in here because that’s just Jayhawk fans lining up to see their team walk into a meat grinder. You gotta pick your spots for optimism, and for Kansas that usually means a game against their in-state rival. This year’s edition is in Manhattan, where somehow the Purple Wizard is still stalking the sidelines. At this point I really think he’s being sustained by the fact that my Mountaineers still haven’t beaten him since joining the conference, but we’ll see if we can’t do something about that this year. Regardless, this is probably as good a shot as Kansas will have at ruining somebody’s season, because all of the other teams that they can actually beat are probably in the same boat that they are. It’s uncertain how many more chances they’ll get at Snyder before he retires, and beating him in his own stadium would be a very bright spot in what is likely to be another dark and depressing season.
10/8 – Kansas State vs Texas Tech – Bill Snyder Family Stadium
This could’ve easily been the Stanford game, but you hesitate to say that a week 1 OOC loss will break a season. I think the realistic scenario there will probably be them serving as the main course for Christian McCaffery’s Heisman campaign kickoff party anyways.
The Texas Tech game just over a month later has the potential to be much more important, as it’s sandwiched between tough trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma. If the Cats do lose to Tech, there’s a very good chance that they’re staring at 2-4 (0-3) heading into the Texas game, and by that point there always the chance that those youngsters will be rolling, as well. That makes the October 8th contest arguably their most important on the schedule: a loss almost guarantees a finish in the bottom half of the conference.
9/17 – Oklahoma vs Ohio State – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Any time that two potential top-5 teams meet this early in the regular season it’s seen as a barometer not only for the teams involved, but also for their conferences as a whole. And I’ll be damned if we’re taking a back seat to the fucking Big 10 again. It still kind of frustrates me that we (read: the national media) spent most of last year thinking that Iowa was really good.
BIG grudges aside, this one has it all: Heisman candidates, high profile coaches, playoff implications. A Sooner victory will likely see them to 3-0, a top-3 ranking, and the inside track to a second consecutive playoff berth, while a loss would probably see the Big 12 as a conference on the outside looking in.
12/3 – Oklahoma State at Oklahoma – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
The Battle of Bedlam is our second season finale rivalry game to make an appearance, and depending how the rest of their season goes it could potentially be one of the biggest games in OSU history. Oklahoma State figures to be a contender this year; they’re only starting 2 underclassmen and return 8 starters on both offense and defense, including Mason Rudolph, the entire offensive line, and the entire linebacking corps. It’ll be a tall task to walk into Norman and come out victorious, but if they can do it with a conference title and playoff spot possibly on the line, this could go down as one of the best seasons in school history.
9/10 – TCU vs Arkansas – Amon G. Carter Stadium
The final game of a crucial opening two weekend-OOC slate for the Big 12 features the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks traveling to Fort Worth to play TCU. Again, there’s a ton riding on this game, both in terms of the perception of TCU and of the conference as a whole. The Horned Frogs have been relevant for long enough now that they should expect to win this game, and doing so would go a long way to silencing doubters (including yours truly) who think that they might take a mini-step backwards post-Boykin/Doctson. Doing it in front of a national TV audience would just make it that much sweeter.
10/8 – Texas vs Oklahoma – Cotton Bowl
There are some fun early season tests that could be the pick here (Notre Dame, Cal), but the true litmus test for Texas is always going to be the Red River Shootout. I was going to go with Notre Dame just out of sheer dislike, but overwhelming response from Texas fans has convinced me that week 1 vs a top 10 team is probably expecting too much from their young team, and their year can easily be made even with a loss in that game. Either way, it’s just about shit-or-get-off-the-pot time for Charlie Strong at Texas (5-7 won’t cut it again), and Oklahoma, as always, represents a huge opportunity for both he and the program. A win would give a young Longhorns team a ton of confidence moving forward and lend credence to predictions about this finally being the year in Austin, while a loss (especially a bad one) could send that same young team into panic-mode and derail the campaign before it really even gets started. The Longhorns aren’t looking to challenge for a title and would probably be happy with a winning record, but a win over the Sooners would go a long to making whatever else happens this season more palatable.
9/10 – Texas Tech vs Arizona State – Sun Devil Stadium
To hear certain redditors tell of it, Texas Tech is bogarting the 10 best wide receivers in the country down in Lubbock and we all just have to deal with it. Based on this and a couple other comments I’ve seen, I gather that the Red Raiders fancy themselves as possible contenders in the Big 12 this year. Before they can do that though, they have to travel to Arizona to play a Sun Devils team that underperformed for much of last season after being a fashionable preseason pick to win the Pac 12. Much like TCU vs Arkansas, this is a game that the Red Raiders have to win if they want to be taken seriously on a national scale, and with the following two games being against Louisiana Tech and Kansas, a victory would probably see them to a 4-0 record heading into October. Handle your business for all of us, Tech. A loss in this game, even if you sweep through the Big 12, will mean that the narrative will be one of a weak conference father than a strong team, and we can’t have that this year. Besides, there will be plenty of time to lose games once league play rolls around.
10/1 – West Virginia vs Kansas State – Mountaineer Field
West Virginia has 2 dragons to slay this year, and with a power vacuum possibly opening at the top of the conference I reaaaaalllly wanted to make this the Oklahoma game. Taking down the Champs would mean so much more to West Virginia and its fans than the single W or L that will ultimately show up on our record. It would signify that we’ve rearrived, and we’ve been hungry to contend in a meaningful way again ever since the Pat White era. Even the Orange Bowl win over Clemson feels more like a blip rather than anything super meaningful, if only because of the divergent trajectories of our respective programs since then. This is the first time in a while that we have the talent and the schedule to do some stuff, and Oklahoma is a team that we have to be able to beat (at least every now and then) if we’re going to contend in the Big 12. However, it’s hard to argue that beating the likely top-5 ranked defending conference champs is a must-win, even at home in front of True Blue Mountaineer Field, especially when there’s another team out there that has even more of a storm heading their way.
Kansas fucking State. I’m pretty sure it’s because we’re so good at beating ourselves, but for whatever reason the Wildcats just seem to have our number. The second half of last year’s game in particular was 30 of the hardest minutes of Mountaineer football that I’ve ever had to watch. We completely dominated them in the first half (seriously, here are their first half possessions: 8/41, punt; 3/6, punt; 4/22; 3/2, punt, which we fumbled; 5/25, FG; 8/17, interception; 2/-1, interception; 3/0, punt; 3/7, punt) but in true Mountaineer fashion we’re only up 13-3. Then the shenanigans start. They return the opening kickoff of the 2nd half 70 yards, then score with a backup receiver at QB. Then that same backup receiver throws an 80 yard TD pass. Then, once we finally find our feet again and retake the lead, we kick 1st Team All-America Morgan Burns, who of course houses it (3 returns for 207 yards and a TD on the day). It was one of the most West Virginia-iest losses I’ve seen in my time, and I’ve seen quite a few.
Basically what I’m saying though is that we owe them. Big time. We haven’t beaten them since joining the Big 12, which seems impossible but is somehow true. This year, we have them coming in for Homecoming, first day of October, to open league play. We need this. Dana needs this. The whole fucking state needs this. Now is the time. Do you hear me, Purple Wizard?! It’s time! The bell tolls for thee!