- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The computers have spoken. On Monday, we broke down the Big 12 title odds. Yesterday, we gave you in-depth win/loss projections. And now, courtesy of the recently released preseason projections from ESPN’s Stats and Information team, we're talking about the games that will decide the season.
As they stand today, ESPN's preseason predictions suggest the Big 12's biggest games this season won't really be close contests. In the Oklahoma's toughest game of the season, at home against Baylor, it's being given a 60.1 percent chance of survival as 4-point favorites.
The projections have pegged Oklahoma's chances of beating Texas in the Red River Showdown at 74.2 percent, with OU as an 8-point favorite. And Bedlam is decidedly in the Sooners' favor (70.9 percent, 8.5-point favorite) as well. So with that in mind, we're instead taking a closer look today at the 12 games that ESPN projections indicate will be true nail-biters.
Some of these might not seem like high-profile matchups, but in real life they'll go a long way toward deciding how the league standings shake out. Here are the Big 12's biggest toss-up games:
1. Kansas State at West Virginia (Nov. 20)
Projection: KSU, 50.9%
In 2012, K-State spanked WVU by a score of 55-14 for the second of the Mountaineers' five straight losses following a 5-0 start. Last season, the Wildcats needed a second-half rally with four unanswered TDs to end a three-game slide in Big 12 play. ESPN projections say KSU will enter this season's matchup mired in a four-game losing streak.
2. Texas Tech at Kansas State (Oct. 4)
Projection: KSU, 51.9%
This one wasn't close last season, as K-State ran for 291 yards in Lubbock to win 49-26, but it's a potential do-or-die game for the Wildcats simply because their next four games come against Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU. KSU is less than a 1-point favorite in the projections.
3. West Virginia at Iowa State (Nov. 29)
Projection: ISU, 52.8%
The best Big 12 game you did not watch last year was ISU's 52-44, triple-overtime victory in Morgantown. The Mountaineers might badly need this one: ESPN's projections peg them as favorites in only two of their games this season, and this is the season finale.
4. Texas at Kansas State (Oct. 25)
Projection: TEX, 53.1%
The Longhorns snapped their five-game losing streak to Kansas State last year, but they were fortunate that game was early in the season before KSU got on a roll. This game is a potential fork in the road for a Texas team projected to be 4-3 entering its trip to the Little Apple.
5. Texas at Texas Tech (Nov. 1)
Projection: TTU, 53.3%
Texas has won five in a row against the Red Raiders, who are projected at 5-3 entering this game but could easily be 7-1 or 8-0 if they win their close ones early on.
6. TCU at West Virginia (Nov. 1)
Projection: TCU, 54.8%
The battle of the Big 12 newcomers has gone to overtime in each of the past two years, and they've split those wins. The ESPN projections like TCU here, but only by a margin of 1.9 points.
7. Texas Tech at TCU (Oct. 25)
Projection: TCU, 55.9%
TCU won a 56-53, triple-overtime thriller in 2012, and Texas Tech got payback with a tough 20-10 win early last season to propel its win streak. If the Horned Frogs have their new (and somewhat Tech-inspired) offense rolling by the end of October, this could be a high-scoring affair.
8. Kansas State at Iowa State (Sept. 6)
Projection: KSU, 56.4%
That makes four Kansas State games on this list. The way K-State's schedule is built, the margin between 8-4 and 4-8 might be slight this season. This might seem like a gimme on the surface, but ESPN's projections say ISU is only a 2.5-point underdog.
9. Oklahoma State at TCU (Oct. 18)
Projection: OSU, 56.8%
These might be the two most unpredictable teams in the league in 2014. Either could finish as high as third or as low as seventh in the final Big 12 standings. ESPN's projections predict a five-game win streak for OSU (after losing to Florida State) heading into the matchup.
10. Iowa State at Kansas (Nov. 8)
Projection: ISU, 59%
Most assume this will be the battle for last place, and ESPN's projections agree. They have both KU and ISU with identical 2-6 records entering this contest, with each program starting 0-5 in Big 12 play.
11. Baylor at Oklahoma (Nov. 8)
Projection: OU, 60.1%
Probably our Game of the Year in the Big 12, and this time the Sooners will have home-field advantage. If the projections prove accurate, both teams would still be undefeated by this date. Baylor's average projected margin of victory in its first eight games before this showdown is 20.8 points.
12. BYU at Texas (Sept. 6)
Projection: TEX, 60.9%
We all remember what BYU did to Texas in Provo last season. The Longhorns will want revenge before they go up to Arlington, Texas, to face UCLA. Once again, do not sleep on the Cougars: ESPN projections say they're a 9-3 team in 2014.
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