Big 12: Connecticut Huskies

Thanks for all your email this week. Here's where you can reach me if you want to make an appearance in next week's mailbag.

Dave in Baton Rouge, La., writes: David, I am normally a big fan, but I took issue with your "black tax" lunch link. The article says that it happened to RG3, but it didn't. A dumb pundit anonymously said something bad about Robert [Griffin III]. Within a day, tons of outlets with white and black hosts were saying how kind and gracious RG3 is/was to them. On the other hand, Geno [Smith] is getting some wayward looks, not because he is black, but because he lost six games in a row [actually five]. Blame the defense all you want, but losing is losing. And Geno, last year, was a loser. NFL teams can see that. Don't try to create a problem where there isn't one, man. It's not about race, it's about talent.

David Ubben: Totally disagree with you on this one, Dave. Fact is, there are still folks around and in scouting who are uncomfortable with black quarterbacks and grade them on a different scale than their white counterparts. It's a minority, but they're out there.

Last year, the book on RG III was that he was somehow a "me-first" kind of player because of his flamboyant, animated personality on the field and in front of the microphone. Any Baylor coach or teammate could have told you that perception could not be further from the truth. That kind of criticism definitely had a racial tinge to it.

This year, the scouting report that article referenced on Smith doesn't talk at all about the losing streak, which, by the way, only featured what I'd call one poor performance from the West Virginia quarterback. What it does talk about is his "marginal work ethic" and need to be coddled, with an inability to handle hard coaching.

You can choose not to see it if you'd like, but there are definitely some racial undertones in there, and you have to factor in the writer's history with Cam Newton, as well.

Anybody who has talked to West Virginia's coaching staff or Smith himself and heard about what he's like around the facilities would know Smith works as hard or harder than anybody on the team and his work ethic stacks up with any of the greats we've seen come through the Big 12. Dana Holgorsen even went on national radio Thursday to talk about that. You're welcome to say it's not a racial issue, but I would call that being ignorant.

I'm not saying he's racist, but I'm saying there are some lazy comparisons and some people operating with preconceived notions that are sometimes rooted in racial stereotypes in scouting, and those kinds of evaluations are too easily listened to and passed on without enough skepticism or double-checking some of those assertions.

Smith threw for 42 touchdowns and six interceptions and basically played one really poor game, then didn't handle a snowstorm well in the bowl game. And you want to blame him for going 7-6? That's silliness.




John in Olathe, Kan., writes: When the Sugar Bowl is the host of one of the national semifinal games, where will the new Big 12/SEC bowl game be played? Cotton?

DU: Really good question, John. I went ahead and consulted the Big 12 on this one, and you're mostly correct.

In the seasons that the Sugar Bowl is a semifinal game played around New Year's Eve, the Big 12 and SEC representatives for the Champions Bowl will simply move to one of the other six rotating access-bowl sites. The other five access bowls are:
  • Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta)
  • Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.)
  • Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas)
  • Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)
  • Orange Bowl (Miami)

Any of the games could host the Champions Bowl participants from the Big 12 and the SEC. So, crisis averted.




Josh Parker in Manhattan, Kan., writes: Ubbs, someone has to win the Big 12 this year right? Seems like everyone is down on every team. (Not that it matters, but same for basketball.) What gives? You know what kind of coaches we have in this confrence, will they not make these programs better throughout the summer?

DU: Well, they've given us reason to be down on them, really. Oklahoma was the preseason No. 1 in 2011 and Texas A&M and Oklahoma State gave the Big 12 three top-10 teams to begin the season. Those were some teams with elite talent on paper to begin the season. Justin Blackmon? Ryan Broyles? This year, the league is largely devoid of a true star, much less an elite team. Might someone surprise us and run the table? That's possible, but nobody looks capable of doing it right now. The Big 12 will likely open the season without a top-10 team for the first time in league history.

That's a pretty good reason to be down on the league, I'd say.




Michael in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writes: Do you see any way that UConn gets an invite from the Big 12? Four of the major conferences signing the "media rights" deal to detour any conference jumps. The conference only has 10 teams and UConn gives the Big 12 a NY market. I'm just looking for the possibilities that the Huskies don't get left at the kiddie table.

DU: I really hate this idea. It'd be huge for Connecticut (which would have an even larger task in trying to compete in every way in terms of football), but it makes zero sense for the Big 12. Bringing in UConn would be a prime example of expansion for expansion's sake. There's no football history or respect of the kind that WVU and TCU brought into the league, and the idea of UConn delivering the New York media market is laughable. Basketball would obviously be a nice addition, but as we've seen over and over again, basketball's revenues make it an afterthought in matters of realignment.

The ACC's recent grant of rights took the most likely (which is to say, still very unlikely) Big 12 expansion targets basically off the board, and you can pretty much count out any chance of the league expanding in the current environment. There's just not a viable option to make it happen.



Ted Miller and David Ubben break down Oklahoma’s win over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis talks about the win over UConn in the Fiesta Bowl.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Quick thoughts from the Tositos Fiesta Bowl, where Oklahoma beat Connecticut 48-20.

How the game was won: Oklahoma prevented Connecticut from scoring an offensive touchdown, and had a great day throwing the ball without a ton of mistakes. The Sooners far outgained Connecticut, who struggled to produce any offense in the first half, and controlled the game from start to finish.

Turning point: Oklahoma led 20-10 in the third quarter when Landry Jones hit Cameron Kenney for a long 59-yard score down the left sideline. On the ensuing possession, Jamell Fleming picked off a tipped pass and returned it 55 yards for another quick score. Connecticut's run-heavy offense isn't built for comebacks, and the Sooners 34-10 advantage was too steep for the Huskies to climb.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma wasn't flagged for a single penalty. That makes life a lot easier.

Player of the game: Jones. The sophomore had a huge day and paced the Sooners offense for all of it. He finished with 433 yards and three touchdowns on 35-of-50 passing.

Unsung hero of the game: Oklahoma's front seven. They won't get credit at the end of the day for really shutting down Jordan Todman, who finished with more than 100 yards, but they made him a complete non-factor in the first 2.5 quarters while Oklahoma rang up its big lead. If Todman gets going and Connecticut could control the ball early, the game might have been a whole different story.

Second guessing: Oklahoma's fake field goal. The Sooners were going for the dagger, but trying to connect on a deep ball to tight end Trent Ratterree from John Nimmo isn't a very high-percentage play. They had the lead, but gave up field position and some momentum against an offense that hadn't produced all day. Liked the aggressiveness, but didn't like the execution.

Record performance: Jones' 433 passing yards, broke Oklahoma's record in a bowl game. Jones set the record in last year's Sun Bowl win over Stanford when he threw for 418 yards.

What it means: Oklahoma finally ends its BCS woes, even if it came against an underwhelming opponent. The Sooners' five-game BCS bowl losing streak came to an end, and their nine-year drought without a BCS win ended against the Huskies.

Tradition? Oklahoma, UConn worlds apart

December, 31, 2010
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Oklahoma leads the nation with 32 10-win seasons. Connecticut has none as an FBS team. Oklahoma has won seven national championships. Connecticut has none. Since World War II, Oklahoma leads the nation with 574 victories. Connecticut has 57 wins as an FBS team.

The Sooners have been ranked in the AP poll for 703 total weeks. UConn beat its first ranked team in 2007.

[+] EnlargeBarry Switzer
AP File PhotoFormer Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer holds a banner and indicates his Sooners are Number 1 after beating Michigan in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 1976. UConn began playing FBS football in 2002.
In 2000, when Oklahoma was rolling undefeated to its last national title, the Huskies lost to Rhode Island and Northeastern.

Do you need more? How about this: Think of every measure of a college football program available. Oklahoma has a lot; UConn has very little.

Oklahoma is one of the most storied programs in the nation. UConn only become an FBS team in 2002.

One of the main storylines heading into the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is the David versus Goliath perception of the two programs. And it's not just that the Sooners are 11-2 and ranked seventh in the BCS standings and the Huskies are 8-4 and unranked.

When you think of Oklahoma you think of coaching and playing legends: Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, Steve Owens, Billy Sims and Adrian Peterson. And when you think of UConn? Well, you, er, think of basketball.

"We know what Oklahoma is and what kind of tradition they have," Huskies defensive coordinator Hank Hughes said. "If you matched us up for 100 years, we don't match up with them. But on this one day for three hours, we have to go out and try to beat them in that one football game. That's the approach we're taking."

In other words, UConn won't be facing J.C. Watts, Brian Bosworth or Greg Pruitt, which is good because Ryan Broyles, DeMarco Murray, Jeremy Beal and Quinton Carter will provide enough of a challenge. UConn's players seem quietly confident that they can keep up with the Sooners. And they seem properly motivated by those myriad doubters who see this as a mismatch that is only possible in a system like the BCS.

Still, it's hard to get past the contrast, which is even more dramatic than when the Sooners took on Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

Consider the bowl media guides.

In UConn's media guide, it lists an "FBS timeline," which starts with former athletic director Lew Perkins first recommending in 1991 that the school "seriously consider playing football at the NCAA Division I-A level" and ends with tailback Jordan Todman, on Dec. 8, becoming the second Husky to earn All-American honors in the "FBS era at UConn."

In Oklahoma's media guide, under a heading "OU Essentials," it cites the program's all-time record -- 809-303-53 -- and notes the Sooners lead the nation with 31 unanimous and 72 consensus All-Americans.

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsall
AP Photo/Matt YorkConnecticut coach Randy Edsall will be leading the Huskies against Oklahoma, and decades of tradition.
UConn celebrates Oct. 28, 2007, when the program earned "its first national ranking when it debuts at No. 16 in the AP Poll and No. 20 in the Coaches’ Poll."

Oklahoma has spent 76 weeks ranked in just the BCS standings -- since 1998 -- including 20 weeks at No. 1, most in the nation.

Players from both teams are almost as aware of this contrast as fans and media. For UConn, it serves as motivation. For Oklahoma, it's a potential trap.

"Everybody is saying we should kill them," Sooners quarterback Landry Jones said. "But if you don't prepare, history is going to repeat itself."

Ah, not all Oklahoma history is good. Jones refers to previous Fiesta Bowl upset defeats against Boise State and West Virginia.

UConn coach Randy Edsall hasn't avoided the topic, even with his team. He prepared his players for an onslaught of questions on the matter.

"Tradition is what it is," Edsall said. "We told them exactly the kind of program Oklahoma is -- the history and tradition."

He also noted that taking on historically great programs is not unexplored territory for his current team. The Huskies won at Notre Dame in 2009 and lost at Michigan this year.

Further, there seems to be some frustration from the UConn side of things that it hasn't been more embraced for making the quickest rise from an FCS school to a BCS bowl game. That, after all, is history, too.

"This is a tremendous story," Edsall said. "It's about giving somebody an opportunity."

UConn has an opportunity to create its own bit of history on Saturday. It won't have to beat those great Sooners teams from past years. All it has to do is be the better team for three hours.

Three hours in which the Huskies will be playing in their fifth bowl game vs. the 45th for Oklahoma.

Video: Fiesta Bowl arrivals

December, 27, 2010
12/27/10
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David Ubben talks about Oklahoma’s and UConn’s arrival in Glendale.

Longest-tenured coaches with no BCS bowls

August, 19, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

While doing some research for another story, I developed this chart. I was curious which coaches in BCS-affiliated conferences had the longest tenures without making a BCS bowl trip.

  1. Jim Leavitt, USF: 13th season at job
  2. Randy Edsall, Connecticut: 11th season at job
  3. Mike Leach, Texas Tech: 10th season at job
  4. Gary Pinkel, Missouri: ninth season at job
  5. Al Groh, Virginia: ninth season at job
  6. Mike Riley, Oregon State: ninth season at job
  7. Greg Schiano, Rutgers: ninth season at job
  8. Jeff Tedford, California: eighth season at job
  9. Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt: eighth season at job
  10. Rich Brooks, Kentucky: seventh season at job
  11. Mike Stoops, Arizona: sixth season at job

I think the list highlights several interesting trends. The top two are coaches who have led their programs from the formative stages.

Then, it gets interesting. Leach consistently has been one of the outstanding coaches in the nation. But his program still has never taken the "next step" to a BCS game.

The same goes for Pinkel, Groh, Riley and Schiano -- all accomplished coaches who have repeatedly taken their programs to bowl games over the years. They just haven't been able to take their program to that "big game."

Of those on the list, I think that Tedford has the best opportunity to break that streak this season as the Bears might be in line to challenge USC in the Pac-10 and maybe be in contention for a BCS at-large berth.

But I thought it was very interesting that two coaches who qualified for a share of their respective divisions championships in the Big 12 rank so highly on a list for the lack of a BCS bowl appearance.

Why it's critical for Baylor to start the season fast

August, 18, 2009
8/18/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I know some of you are wondering why I've made it a point of emphasis that Baylor needs a quick start to make its first bowl trip since 1994.

The major reason is that past history has not been kind to Big 12 teams that struggle in the nonconference portion of their schedules.

And with Baylor facing one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the Big 12, it will be critical for them to start fast. Baylor is facing a most daunting schedule in terms of being the only Big 12 team with two opponents from BCS conferences with its opener at Wake Forest on Sept. 5 and a home game on Sept. 19 against Connecticut.

I went back and did some figuring.

Of the 92 bowl teams in the 13-season history of the Big 12, only 10 of them had two nonconference regular-season losses. Only three teams with two nonconference losses have qualified for bowl games among the 46 teams making bowl trips since 2003.

Here's another nugget that might act as an incentive to Art Briles or anybody else in the conference. Of the 43 Big 12 teams that have started the season with a 4-0 record -- occasionally with a conference game thrown in -- all made bowl trips that season.

So that should bode well for the Bears if they are able to run the table in an opening start with nonconference games at Wake Forest and home games against Connecticut, Northwestern State and Kent State.

Here's a look at the Big 12's bowl teams over the years and how they did in nonconference play during the regular season. The two-loss teams are indicated in bold facing.

1996: No losses, Kansas State; one loss, Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska; two losses, Texas.

1997: No losses, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M; one loss, Missouri.

1998: No losses, Colorado, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Nebraska; one loss, Missouri, Texas A&M; two losses, Texas.

1999: No losses, Kansas State, Nebraska, Texas A&M; one loss, Oklahoma, Texas; two losses, Colorado.

2000: No losses, Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas Tech; one loss, Texas, Texas A&M.

2001: No losses, Kansas State, Iowa State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech; one loss, Colorado.

2002: No losses, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas; one loss, Nebraska; two losses, Colorado, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech.

2003: No losses: Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State; one loss, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech.

2004: No losses, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas; one loss, Iowa State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech.

2005: No losses, Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Colorado, Missouri; two losses, Oklahoma.

2006: No losses, Missouri, Texas A&M; one loss, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech.

2007: No losses, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Texas A&M; two losses, Colorado, Oklahoma State.

2008: No losses, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech; one loss, Kansas, Nebraska.

Additionally, Baylor has never started a season since joining the Big 12 with four straight victories. The Bears started 3-0 in 1996 under Chuck Reedy, finishing 4-7. And they started 3-0 under Guy Morriss in 2005, finishing 5-6.

Record-breaking nine bowl teams predicted for Big 12

August, 11, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's been a long time between bowl trips for Baylor.

The Bears' last bowl trip came in 1994 when they were defeated by Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. Current Baylor starting quarterback Robert Griffin was 4 years old when that game was played.

But excitement is rampant along the Brazos River and the Bears are ready to snap a bowl drought that is tied with Duke for the longest in schools in BCS-affiliated conferences.

Considering that Grant Teaff was coaching Baylor then and Steve Spurrier was directing the Blue Devils, it has been an extensive drought for both schools.

The Bears have their best hope this season and I'm thinking they squeak in. It will be critical for them to win at least one of their first two games against Wake Forest and Connecticut. They also need victories over Northwestern State and Kent State to enter Big 12 play at 3-1.

If Baylor does make that remarkable step, it will likely mean the Big 12 will be able to fill its full complement of bowls. It was unable to fill two bowls at the bottom of its list of partners. But that likely won't be the case this season if the Bears live up to their preseason hype.

Here's a look at how I predict the Big 12's bowl slots will be filled this season with a record nine teams making trips. The last two or three might be 6-6 teams, but there won't be much complaining from any of them.

Baylor Bears

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Robert Griffin electrifies the nation with stunning victories over Wake Forest and Connecticut to start the season and the Bears are already at six victories by mid-October. It makes them the feel-good story of the conference, places Art Briles in prime consideration for a couple of top jobs and pushes the Bears into the Alamo Bowl where they last went bowling in 1994.

Worst case: Offensive tackle Danny Watkins can't protect Griffin's blind side and the Bears stumble early with two-straight losses. Those pass-protection problems fester all season as the Bears revert to their losing ways and miss a bowl for another season.

Prediction: Texas Bowl.

Colorado Buffaloes

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: In a nod to soothsayers everywhere, the Buffaloes indeed live up to Dan Hawkins' preseason "prediction" and win 10 games, claiming a surprise Big 12 title game and ending up in the Holiday Bowl.

Worst case: The Buffaloes don't settle on either quarterback and tumble out of bowl contention for the third time in the last four seasons under Hawkins, making his seat extremely toasty this winter.

Prediction: Independence Bowl.

Iowa State Cyclones:

Best case: The Cyclones become the surprise story of the conference as Austen Arnaud immediately blossoms in Tom Herman's new offense. The defense shows steady improvement under Wally Burnham, providing a surprise trip to the casinos and crawfish boils at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Worst case: Paul Rhoads is a willing worker, but his new team just never jells with his philosophy. More road woes continue against Kent State as the Cyclones see their nation-worst road losing streak stretch to 22 games as they stay home from a bowl for a fourth-straight season.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Kansas Jayhawks

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The Jayhawks find a couple of defensive reincarnations of Aqib Talib to help them spring a couple of upsets over South Division powers. Confidence gleaned from those games helps them surprise the South Divison champion in the Big 12 title game and send Mark Mangino and his team skipping into their second BCS bowl in three seasons -- this time to the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: Todd Reesing struggles behind a retooled offensive line and the Jayhawks' offense isn't nearly as potent as expected. Without a high-powered scoring team, the Kansas defense is exposed as posers, falling to the Insight.com Bowl for the second-straight season.

Prediction: Sun Bowl.

Kansas State Wildcats

Best case: Bill Snyder brings the magic back to Manhattan, picking up a couple of upset victories to restore some pride in the Kansas State program from early in the season. The Wildcats ride that momentum for a surprise trip to the Insight.com Bowl.

Worst case: A quarterback never emerges and a struggling pass defense regresses into a horrific unit against the Big 12's high-powered aerial attacks. Those defeats make Snyder wonder why he ever left retirement as the Wildcats finish out of a bowl trip for the fifth time in six seasons.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Missouri Tigers

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Blaine Gabbert provides steady leadership as Derrick Washington becomes the most versatile back in the Big 12. The retooled defense emerges as the Tigers claim a surprise Big 12 North title and end up at the Cotton Bowl.

Worst case: The loss of Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and both coordinators cause the wheels to fall off the Missouri program and they miss a bowl trip for the first time since 2004.

Prediction: Insight.com Bowl

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: Zac Lee is a revelation at quarterback and the defense emerges in Bo Pelini's second season to push the Cornhuskers to a upset victory in the Big 12 title game and into the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: The hype for Lee is just that. The new quarterback struggles and the Cornhuskers' defense backslides all the way t
o the Texas Bowl.

Prediction: Holiday Bowl.

Oklahoma Sooners

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The young offensive line jells and the defense plays better than expected as the Sooners earn another chance to play in the BCS title game -- restoring order in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 17 along the way.

Worst case: The offensive front struggles to protect Sam Bradford and the defense isn't as good as expected, dropping the Sooners to their first visit to the Alamo Bowl.

Prediction: Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Bowl bound: Count on it.

Best case: The offensive triplets exceed expectations as Bill Young cobbles together enough defense to enable the Cowboys to outduel Texas and Oklahoma for their first Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Worst case: The defense still can't match up with Oklahoma and Texas -- and some of the other teams in the South Division either. Those struggles send the Cowboys skidding all the way to the Insight.com Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., where they play second-fiddle to the Sooners who are playing up the road in the Fiesta Bowl.

Prediction: Cotton Bowl.

Texas Longhorns

Bowl bound: Count on it

Best case: The Longhorns find a featured running back and enough push from the defensive front to make all of the BCS rankings meaningless en route back to another shot at the national title in Pasadena.

Worst case: Colt McCoy gets hurt, the running game struggles and the Longhorns keep playing dropsy with key turnovers chances for another season. Instead, Texas players fumble their way to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego where they munch fish tacos and feed the whales at Sea World for the fourth time in the last 10 years.

Prediction: BCS National Championship Game.

Texas A&M Aggies

Bowl bid: Possibly.

Best case: Jerrod Johnson plays so well at quarterback that Ryan Tannehill moves back to wide receiver full time. The Aggies respond to defensive coordinator Joe Kines' defense with vast improvement through the season, stunning Texas in the regular-season finale to push them into the Alamo Bowl.

Worst case: A leaky offensive line can't open holes or pass block and the Aggies' defense struggles against all Big 12 quarterbacks in another season that finishes without a bowl.

Prediction: Home for the holidays.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Bowl bid: Count on it.

Best case: Taylor Potts exceeds all expectations and the Red Raiders defense plays so well that some start accusing the school of being a "defense-first" program. The Red Raiders don't win the Big 12 South, but they revisit the location of Mike Leach's biggest bowl victory at the Holiday Bowl.

Worst case: The Red Raiders miss Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree more than expected and skid out of bowl contention for the first time under Leach.

Prediction: Alamo Bowl.

Three predictions about Baylor

July, 30, 2009
7/30/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After getting a chance to talk to all of the Big 12's coaches and many of its most important players over the past few days, I'm emboldened to make some predictions on the upcoming season and beyond. Over the next several days, I'll gaze into my crystal ball and make three predictions about each team from some of the observations I gleaned from Big 12 media days.

First up will be Baylor.

1. Baylor will be better than last season, and still might not make a bowl game. The Bears have the most explosive player in the conference in Robert Griffin, an underrated runner in Jay Finley and three of the league's pivotal defensive players in defensive tackle Phil Taylor, linebacker Joe Pawelek and safety Jordan Lake.

And it still might not be enough.

The Bears are facing a brutal schedule and one that has been exacerbated by greed. They have given away a home game and a strong potential victory at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco against Texas Tech, for a game over Thanksgiving weekend at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Sure, that big-screen television is nice and that stadium has every bell and whistle known to mankind. But something tells me that if Baylor is sitting at 5-6 heading into that game, Art Briles sure would rather be playing the Red Raiders where the Dr Pepper flows than in some modernistic football palace where soda will be $8 a cup.

And for all of the talk about Baylor being ahead of Texas A&M, people forget the Bears still haven't won in College Station since 1984. Kyle Field at one time was one of the most intimidating locales in all of college football. Even with a talent edge for the Bears, strange things sometimes happen to visiting teams when they visit there. Baylor needs to win there for a bowl berth.

We'll know something after the first two games of the season. The Bears absolutely, positively need at least one victory from their early start against Wake Forest and Connecticut, which for my mind is the toughest start of any Big 12 team. Their bowl hopes would be much better with two triumphs. If they start 0-2, I don't like the Bears' chances of halting the longest bowl drought in the conference.

2. The biggest hole to fill in the Big 12 won't be Brian Orakpo, Michael Crabtree, Graham Harrell or Chase Daniel. I think the toughest replacement will be Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. Those other schools have incoming players with much more football experience than the Bears will have for their loss of Smith. The critical job of protecting Griffin's blind side will go to Canadian fireman Danny Watkins, who is set to start at left tackle with minimal American football experience. That's quite a drop, particularly considering that's he's sheltering Baylor's "franchise" on every snap.

3. Griffin will be running for the American track team in the 2012 Olympics in London. I know this sounds like a wild stab. But after hearing Griffin talk and knowing his ability, I'm convinced he can make that can make that jump as a track competitor. If he can maintain his health, nothing is out of the question for this world-class athlete.

And the good thing for Baylor is that it still has a couple of years for him to play quarterback for the Bears.

Coming Friday: Colorado

Briles favors moderating future Baylor schedules

July, 28, 2009
7/28/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

IRVING, Texas -- Baylor will be attempting to snap a 14-season bowl drought with the Big 12's most difficult schedule.

With nonconference games against Wake Forest and Connecticut, the Bears are the only Big 12 team playing two foes from BCS-affiliated conferences.

It's made Baylor coach Art Briles favor moderating future Baylor schedules to feature easier nonconference opponents.

"In December I want to be happy and I want things to be good for Baylor," Briles said. "I'm a percentage guy and a situational guy and I'm intelligent enough to understand percentages and situations."

The Bears have enough problems because they are playing in the Big 12's South Division, which is considered by many pundits as the toughest division in the nation.

"Whether that means playing at home or playing non-BCS, whatever the top percentages you need to be," Briles said. "Because in this conference, you'll have enough chances to stick your chest out. You don't have to go searching around to make yourself look good. You'll have your opportunities."

The Big 12's toughest nonconference games

July, 20, 2009
7/20/09
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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

Ranking the best and worst of Big 12 nonconference schedules

June, 10, 2009
6/10/09
12:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.

Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:

1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami

The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.

2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia

Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.

3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada

The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.

4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette

No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.

5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling

Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.

6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State

The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons under Doug Martin.

7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi

The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.

8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)

The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.

9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico

Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.

10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida

The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.

11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army

Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.

12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech

The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.

Tags:

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Baylor-Wake Forest set for ABC/ESPN coverage

June, 4, 2009
6/04/09
5:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Baylor officials announced today that the Bears' Sept. 5 opener at Wake Forest will be nationally televised by ABC/ESPN.

The game will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Atlantic Coast Conference announced the game will be regionally broadcast on ABC, with a mirror telecast on ESPN2.

"Baylor football is on the rise and our television partners are excited about our program's bright future," Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. "Having the Wake Forest game televised on both ABC and ESPN2 affords our program tremendous exposure and we are thrilled with this opportunity."

Baylor's last appearance on ABC came in 1997, when the Bears dropped a 45-14 decision to 13th-ranked Miami, Fla., in Waco before a regional television audience.

Baylor also announced that kickoff for its Sept. 19 home opener against Connecticut will be at 5 p.m. ET and home contests against Northwestern State on Sept. 26 and Kent State on Oct. 3 will both kick off at 7 p.m. ET.

As of Thursday, here's the link to all of the games that are currently scheduled to be broadcast by the ABC/ESPN networks.  

Watch these critical schedule points for Big 12 teams in 2009

May, 29, 2009
5/29/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Like the guys who write copy for the commercials like to say, every game matters.

But some are more important than others, and a specific stretch can be found for each Big 12 team that will determine their relative success during the upcoming season.

Here's a look at the most important parts of the schedule for each Big 12 team during the 2009 season:

Baylor (Sept. 5, at Wake Forest; Sept. 19, Connecticut; Sept. 26, Northwestern State; Oct. 3, Kent State): The first four games of the season will determine if the Bears are legitimate bowl contenders. The first two games are particularly big, considering that Baylor will be playing two teams that beat them last season. It's hard to imagine Baylor making a bowl trip unless it wins three of its first four games. But if the Bears shoot out of the starting blocks and go to a 4-0 start, which would be their best start since 1991, then bowl hopes would seem legitimate. Just as important would be how Art Briles could coax his team back from the ledge if it loses the first two games of the season.

Colorado (Oct. 17, Kansas; Oct. 24, at Kansas State; Oct. 31, Missouri): These three games will likely determine if the Buffaloes can realistically challenge for the Big 12 North title. Kansas will be going for an unprecedented four-game winning streak against Colorado. Coming into the season, the Buffaloes have lost 12 of their last 14 conference road games. And their 58-0 shutout loss last season against Missouri snapped a 242-game scoring streak. If the Buffaloes can win two of three, they likely will go bowling. If they can win all of them, a North title challenge isn't out of the question.

Iowa State (Sept. 12, Iowa, Sept. 19, at Kent State; Sept. 26, Army; Oct. 3 Kansas State (at Kansas City, Mo.): Paul Rhoads' team will need to prove its mettle early. It doesn't get any bigger for ISU than the Cy-Hawk Rivalry against Iowa, especially since the Cyclones have won seven of the last 11 in the series. In their next game, the Cyclones will be attempting to snap a 17-game road losing streak when they visit Kent State. Army has played Big 12 teams tough in recent seasons, losing four of its last five games against the conference by a combined total of 18 points. And the Kansas State game could determine which team finishes the season in the Big 12 North cellar. A fast early start is imperative for the Cyclones.

Kansas (Oct. 17, at Colorado; Oct. 24, Oklahoma; Oct. 31, at Texas Tech; Nov. 7, at Kansas State): The Jayhawks' hopes of making their first Big 12 title game appearance will depend on navigating a tough four-game stretch in the middle of the season. Todd Reesing has beaten Colorado three straight times, but before Kansas' 2007 victory in Boulder, the Buffaloes had won five straight and 10 of their last 11 against the Jayhawks there. Mark Mangino has never beaten Bob Stoops, losing all three games against his old team. Revenge will be big in the Texas Tech game after the Red Raiders' stunning 63-21 victory in Lawrence last season. And Bill Snyder beat Kansas eight straight times at the end of his first stop in Manhattan, allowing an average of 8.5 points in those games. The Jayhawks likely need a split in these four games to contend for a championship. A 3-1 record might cement their title chances.

Kansas State (Oct. 3, Iowa State at Kansas City, Mo.; Oct. 10, at Texas Tech, Oct. 17, Texas A&M; Oct. 24, Colorado): Success in their first four conference games will determine if the Wildcats can shock pundits and challenge for a bowl berth. The Iowa State game will set the tone for both teams in a series where the Cyclones have won three of the last five games. The Red Raiders have beaten them four straight times since 2000. The KSU defense was torched for 544 yards against A&M last season. And after a four-game winning streak against Colorado from 1996-2000, Snyder lost four of his last five games against the Buffaloes. The Wildcats desperately need a fast start considering their last four games are against Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. These games will set the tone for their bowl hopes.

Missouri (Oct. 8, Nebraska; Oct. 17, at Oklahoma State; Oct. 24, Texas; Oct. 31, at Colorado): The Tigers start their conference play after a week off. They'll need it. Missouri has caught Bo Pelini's attention by outscoring the Cornhuskers by a combined 93-23 margin in the past two seasons. The Oklahoma State game is a revenge game after OSU snapped Missouri's unbeaten streak last season. Texas has won the last five games against Missouri and 14 of the last 15 since 1931. And Colorado will be pumped about Missouri's visit after 55-10 and 58-0 losses to the Tigers in the last two seasons. Obviously, this stretch will not be very forgiving for a team with a sophomore quarterback like Blaine Gabbert.

Nebraska (Nov. 14, at Kansas; Nov. 21, Kansas State; Nov. 27, at Colorado): The Cornhuskers could be putting the finishing touches on their first Big 12 title game appearance since 2006 with a fast finish. It will be tough, considering the Cornhuskers allowed a school record 76 points in their last trip to Lawrence. Nebraska has toyed with Kansas State in recent seasons, averaging 64.5 points in their last two games. Additionally, this will be the first head-coaching matchup between old rivals Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder. And the Cornhuskers should bring confidence into the Colorado game considering they have won six of their last eight games there. A 2-1 record or better in these games likely will push the Cornhuskers into the championship game.

Oklahoma (Oct. 17, Texas at Dallas; Oct. 24, at Kansas; Oct. 31, Kansas State; Nov. 7, at Nebraska): As usual, the Texas game will play a huge role in determining the South title. Bob Stoops is 5-0 against Kansas in his coaching tenure. Stoops is 6-1 against his old boss, Bill Snyder, with his only loss coming in the 2003 Big 12 title game. And before Oklahoma's 2005 victory at Nebraska, the Sooners had lost six straight there in a streak that dated to 1987 -- Barry Switzer's next-to-last season. The Sooners have overcome losses to Texas in two of the last three seasons and still won the Big 12 title. It would be hard to imagine them pulling off that feat again.

Oklahoma State (Nov. 14, Texas Tech; Nov. 19, Colorado; Nov. 28, at Oklahoma): The Cowboys could be putting the final touches on their first Big 12 South title with a fast finish against these teams this year. The Red Raiders have averaged 673.5 yards per game in the last two games against Oklahoma State. It will be trying to turn around some bad recent karma in the Colorado game as the Cowboys have lost their last three home finales. And coach Mike Gundy is 0-8 against Oklahoma during his career as a head coach and starting quarterback. The Cowboys need at least two victories in this finish if they are to contend for the South title, if not three.

Texas (Oct. 17, Oklahoma at Dallas; Oct. 24, at Missouri; Oct. 31, at Oklahoma State): The Longhorns' hopes for their first Big 12 title game berth since 2005 will depend on these three games. Mack Brown has quietly taken control of the Oklahoma series in recent seasons, winning three of his last four against Bob Stoops after losing five straight games against the Sooners from 2000-04. Some of the achievement of that streak has been diminished because the Sooners have claimed an unprecedented three straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns have won five of their last six games in Columbia. And Texas has won 11 straight against Oklahoma State, although it has needed comebacks to win several of the rece
nt games, including climbing out of a 21-0 hole on the last trip there in 2007. These three games likely will determine if the Longhorns are national title contenders.

Texas A&M (Oct. 3, Arkansas at Arlington; Oct. 10, Oklahoma State; Oct. 17, at Kansas State): The Aggies' bowl hopes and their chance of climbing out of the Big 12 cellar will depend on these three games. Arkansas has won 10 of the last 15 games in the series that will be resumed for the first time since 1991. A&M has won five of the last six games against Oklahoma State in Kyle Field -- a place where OSU coach Mike Gundy has never won before. And the Aggies had won five straight games against Kansas State before their loss last season against the Wildcats. With some luck, the Aggies could go 3-0 in these games. If they lose one game, they still might have bowl hopes. But 1-2 or worse will mean it could be a long season for coach Mike Sherman.

Texas Tech (Oct. 24, Texas A&M; Oct. 31, Kansas; Nov. 14, at Oklahoma State; Nov. 21, Oklahoma): These four games will determine whether the Red Raiders can make a surprise charge into contention in the South Division. Tech coach Mike Leach has never lost to A&M at home, fashioning a 4-0 record. Kansas players remember a humiliating 63-21 loss at Lawrence last season that pushed Tech's margin to 10-1 in that series. Tech hasn't won at OSU since 2001. And the Red Raiders will be looking to hang a third straight victory in Lubbock over Bob Stoops after last season's 65-21 loss that spoiled the Red Raiders' 10-0 season start. Tech likely won't be challenging for the South title this season, but success in this four-game stretch should point them on a rewarding bowl trip. An 0-4 finish might keep Tech out of a bowl trip for the first time under Leach.

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