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Monday, July 20, 2009
The Big 12's toughest nonconference games

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12's nonconference schedule is marked with several extremely difficult tests early. These are statement games for the conference as a whole. If Big 12 teams can win these games, it would grab a lot of national attention.

If not, the Big 12's national reputation could take an early hit that could have naysayers reminding us about the conference's bowl struggles last season against the SEC.

But here's a look at six games that will be the most difficult for Big 12 teams. These will be a little more difficult than those last week I listed as potential trap games.

1. Nebraska at Virginia Tech, Sept. 19: Bo Pelini's toughest nonconference road game to date. The Hokies are ranked no lower than 14th nationally in any preseason magazine I've seen yet and will be a tremendous challenge in Blacksburg. In order to win, the Cornhuskers will have to keep Virginia Tech's defense and special teams in check and hope for a break or two.

2. Georgia at Oklahoma State, Sept. 5: This game will arguably be the biggest nonconference game in Oklahoma State history. And even though the Cowboys likely will be favored and facing a Georgia team breaking in a new starting quarterback, it will still be a huge test to beat one of the Southeastern Conference's traditional power teams.

3. Iowa at Iowa State, Sept. 12: The Cyclones have won four of the last five games at home in the series, but Paul Rhoads' first big test against his cross-state rivals looms especially large. Particularly with the Hawkeyes expected by many to be the surprise team in the Big Ten this season.

4. Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Sept. 5: This game was already going to be tough before Sean Weatherspoon started tweeting about squeezing "the pulp" out of Illinois quarterback Juice Williams. And bet that Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini haven't forgotten that the Tigers have won four straight games against them in the bragging-rights battle.

5. Oklahoma at Miami, Oct. 3: This rivalry was one to circle back in the mid-1980s when Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson were battling. It's still a good one and Randy Shannon will be looking for a statement victory that would grab attention for his program from across the nation. Bet that Shannon will remind his team about the 51-13 whipping it endured last season in Norman for a little inspiration before the game at Land Shark Stadium.

6. Baylor at Wake Forest, Sept. 5: Baylor should be much better than last season and the Demon Deacons should be a little down from last season. But Wake Forest still should be a challenge considering Jim Grobe's recent transformation of the Demon Deacons, who have posted a 14-5 home record in the last three seasons. Baylor's defense will have to play much better than last season, when it allowed scoring drives on Wake Forest's first three possessions in an eventual 41-13 loss in Waco.

And 10 others to watch:

Colorado at West Virginia, Oct. 1
Oklahoma at BYU (at Arlington), Sept. 5
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (at Arlington), Oct. 3
Texas Tech at Houston, Sept. 26
Houston at Oklahoma State, Sept. 12
Kansas at UTEP, Sept. 12
Missouri at Nevada, Sept. 26
Connecticut at Baylor, Sept. 19
Southern Mississippi at Kansas, Sept. 26
Kansas State at UCLA, Sept. 19