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.