Big 12 non-conference schedules – From Brookings to Nacogdoches …

Quick, what are the nicknames for Sam Houston State? Stephen F. Austin? North Dakota State? South Dakota State?

Yeah. Me, neither.

Welcome to the 2010 college football schedule, where the Big 12 goes from Miami (Florida International) to Seattle (Washington), and from Buffalo to San Diego (State), in search of easy opponents. Full disclosure: Colorado has played two Division 1-AA teams – in its history – but other members of the Big 12 conference have historically filled their media guides with games against teams you need an atlas to find (or, today, Google maps).

This fall will be no different.

Out of 48 non-conference games to be played in 2010 by Big 12 teams, only 12 are against opponents from BCS conferences. That’s a nice even number – an average of one per school. Of course, it would fair if each team played at least one BCS opponent, but that is not the case. Colorado, as you know, plays two teams from BCS conferences – at California, and in Boulder against Georgia. The only other Big 12 team challenging two teams from the six BCS conferences is Oklahoma. The Sooners play Florida State at home, then take to the road two weeks later to play the Bearcats of Cincinnati (the game in between is no breather, either, as Air Force will come to Norman).

For Colorado and Oklahoma to have two BCS teams each on their schedules, that means that two Big 12 teams will avoid BCS opponents altogether. The guilty parties? Baylor and Texas Tech, though it must be said that both teams do face difficult challenges from mid-majors. Baylor goes on the road to face defending Mountain West champion TCU (12-1 in 2009), while Texas Tech plays Houston, the defending champion of the Western Division of Conference USA (10-4 in 2009).

Big 12 v. Top 25

 There are very few “marquee” non-conference games for Big 12 teams next fall. The conference plays only five games against teams which were ranked amongst the top 25 in the final 2009 AP poll, and Iowa State takes on two of them. The Cyclones must play in-state rival Iowa (#7 in the final poll) on the road, then later take on Utah (#18). The other games against ranked opponents include the aforementioned Baylor v. TCU (#6) and Oklahoma at Cincinnati (#8), as well as Kansas v. Georgia Tech (#13).

Big 12 v. BCS

The Pac-10 is the non-conference BCS conference foe of choice, with the Big 12 taking on the Pac-10 on five occasions. UCLA is close to applying for honorary membership in the Big 12, taking on both Texas and Kansas State. Colorado plays California, while Nebraska plays Washington and Oklahoma State takes on Washington State. Of the remaining BCS conferences, the Big 12 plays two against the SEC (CU v. Georgia; Texas A&M v. Arkansas); two against the ACC (Oklahoma v. Florida State; Kansas v. Georgia Tech); two against the Big Ten (Iowa State v. Iowa, Missouri v. Illinois), and one game against the Big East (Oklahoma v. Cincinnati). Of the 12 games, eight will be played at Big 12 venues, four will be on the road, and two at neutral sites.

Big 12 v. The Creampuffs

Of course, the Big 12, like most conferences, schedules its share of games against lower division opponents. In all, eight games will be played against teams in Division 1-AA (or below). The roster of gimmes include: Sam Houston State (Baylor); Stephen F. Austin (Texas A&M); Weber State (Texas Tech); Northern Iowa (Iowa State); North Dakota State (Kansas); Missouri State (Kansas State); McNeese State (Missouri); and South Dakota State (Nebraska).

There are also the “gosh, we didn’t know when we scheduled them that they would be lousy” games. Here, Nebraska wins the award for cushy scheduling – and yes, they knew exactly what they were doing (the Cornhuskers’ 2010 schedule was announced last spring). The Cornhuskers do have a game against Washington (a season removed from the 0-12 campaign of 2008), but even that sounds like a bowl game compared to their other contests. Nebraska opens with Western Kentucky, a team still looking for its first win as a Division 1-A school (the Hilltoppers posted an 0-12 record in their inaugural 2009 campaign). The Cornhuskers have also scheduled South Dakota State Jackrabbits, who I understand are an emerging power in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The final non-conference game for Nebraska is against the Idaho Vandals. When Nebraska chose to play Idaho, the Vandals were coming off of a 2-10 season. This was not news in Moscow. Before 2009, Idaho had not posted a winning record since 1999, with a 4-8 record in 2006 the banner year of the decade. Then, last fall, Idaho did the impossible, not only posting a winning record, but going bowling for the first time since 1998. A 43-42 win over Bowling Green capped an 8-5 season which led to a parade for the team in Moscow. This is not to say that the Vandals will pull off a victory in Lincoln in September, but at least Nebraska has to face a bowl team in non-conference play.

How about the other clunkers?

There are plenty to choose from.

 The Kansas schools are always a good place to start. Kansas State recruits heavily from the junior college ranks, and seems to schedule similar schools in non-conference play. In 2010, the Wildcats face the mighty Missouri State Bears, as well as the Mean Green from North Texas. Kansas, meanwhile, will take on North Dakota State and New Mexico State (the Aggies are coming off a 3-10 season (1-7 in WAC play). Not to be outdone, Missouri found time in their schedule for McNeese State, while Iowa State takes on 1-AA power Northern Iowa. Missouri and Iowa State also win the award for conservation of fuel. The Tigers play Illinois in St. Louis – the other three non-conference games are in Columbia, while Iowa State travels to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes, but otherwise stay in Ames.

In the Big 12 South, it appears that allowing local schools to come by for a paychek and an “L” is the order of the day. In-state, or neighboring state, foes for the South include: Sam Houston State (Baylor); Louisiana-Lafayette (Oklahoma State); Stephen F. Austin (Texas A&M); Rice (Texas); and SMU (Texas Tech).  In the South, Baylor, Texas, and Texas A&M win the fuel conservation award, never leaving the state of Texas. The Bears do play two “road” games, playing TCU in Fort Worth, as well as a game against cross-town rival Rice. Texas plays at Rice, but otherwise stays home (the Longhorns don’t leave the state until October 16th, when they travel to Lincoln to play Nebraska). Texas A&M, meanwhile, only leaves College Station once in non-conference play – a neutral site game against Arkansas in Dallas.

In some respects, there is more parity in college football, at least once you get down past the Texas’ and the Nebraska’s of the money-driven NCAA pyramid. TCU, Houston, Rice, and SMU are no longer gimmes for their Big 12 South neighbors. Most teams – including Colorado – can no longer assume that the results of any game are foregone conclusions.

There will be some upsets next fall in non-conference play … but not many. In 2009, the Big 12 went 35-13 in non-conference games.

Translation: if Colorado hopes to gain bowl-eligibility, and secure one of the conference’s eight bowl tie-ins, a repeat of 2009’s 1-3 non-conference record cannot be tolerated.

[For the record, the nicknames for those teams mentioned above are: Bearkats (Sam Houston State); Lumberjacks (Stephen F. Austin); Bison (North Dakota State); and Jackrabbits (South Dakota State). If you knew more than one of those nicknames, you are either a college football maniac – or a native of the midwest. The schools which play in the towns listed in the heading are South Dakota State (Brookings) and Stephen F. Austin (Nacogdoches).]

Big 12 non-conference opponents for 2010

Big 12 North:

Colorado – v. CSU (Denver); at California; Hawaii; Georgia

Iowa State – Northern Illinois; at Iowa; Northern Iowa; Utah

Kansas – North Dakota State; Georgia Tech; at Southern Mississippi; New Mexico State

Kansas State – UCLA; Missouri State; UCF; at North Texas

Missouri – v. Illinois (St. Louis); McNeese State; San Diego State; Miami (Ohio)

Nebraska – Western Kentucky; Idaho; at Washington; South Dakota State

Big 12 South:

Baylor – Sam Houston State; Buffalo; at TCU; at Rice

Oklahoma – Utah State; Florida State; Air Force; at Cincinnati

Oklahoma State – Washington State; Troy; Tulsa; at Louisiana-Lafayette

Texas – at Rice; Wyoming; UCLA; Florida Atlantic

Texas A&M – Stephen F. Austin; Louisiana Tech; Florida International; v. Arkansas (Dallas)

Texas Tech – SMU; at New Mexico; Weber State; Houston

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