We Think These Key Big 12 Conference Games Will Be Difference Makers In 2012
By KEVIN LONNQUIST
If you ever ask a coach if he believes that a certain game on the schedule is a must-win, he’ll respond with the usual, “they’re all a must win.’’
Really, that’s what a coach should believe because he’s preparing his team each week. But in the Big 12, there are games that can shape a team’s season. These are the games that will determine if a team is going bowling or not, can reach a certain plateau or is a legitimate national title contender. So Rattle and Hum Sports looked at each team’s schedule and zeroed on the game that will define 2012.
Baylor: vs. SMU, Sept. 2 – It’s the first game after the Robert Griffin III era and the Bears have to immediately prove they weren’t governed by one player. Fair or unfair, that’s what the media and — let’s face it — some coaches believe. They need Baylor to prove otherwise. Beating SMU sets up a 3-0 non-conference record and puts BU halfway toward returning to a bowl. That’s the primary goal for this program. The Nick Florence also era needs to get off to a good start. It won’t be easy against a solid Mustangs defense. Losing the opener really changes things. There will be pressure to put the RG3 era in its proper place — history.
Iowa State: vs. Kansas State, Oct. 13 – This will be the third Big 12 game for the Cyclones and it’s at home against a team that’s pretty steady. But the Wildcats are beatable. ISU should probably be 3-2 and 1-1 in the league. Win this game and there’s some breathing room. If not, the bowl chances take a hit because three of their final four games are against Oklahoma, at Texas and against West Virginia.
Kansas: vs. TCU, Sept. 15 – This game is in Lawrence and is TCU’s Big 12 debut game. But the game should serve as a benchmark as to where the Jayhawks. From this, it should reveal if they have a chance to have some success in 2012 or will be on their way to a last-place finish like so many preseason forecasts suggest. KU will be sky-high for this game. Quarterback Dayne Crist has to have a huge performance.
Kansas State: at Oklahoma, Sept. 22 – This is the first big game of the conference season. The Wildcats were throttled by the Sooners in Manhattan last year, 58-17, and want to have a little payback. Find a way to win here and it really sets up the conference schedule. Three of the first four are on the road. Playing ball control at Owen Field has never been so important. If quarterback Collin Klein plays sound, they can win this.
Oklahoma: vs. Texas, Oct. 13 – Of course this is the marquee game because it’s the border war and it’s in the Cotton Bowl. The winner of this game always seems takes a lot of momentum with it. The Sooners have won the last two meetings. They should be 4-0 with two Big 12 wins under their belt. Plus, they have Kansas and Notre Dame in Norman the following two weeks. They should be favored to beat the Longhorns and stay in the national title hunt.
Oklahoma State: vs. Texas, Sept. 29 – The Cowboys will have a challenging road game at Arizona on Sept. 15. But this is the Big 12 opener and it’s in Stillwater. The real challenge is whether the OSU quarterbacking situation has been settled or if it’s still in transition. Regardless of whether it’s Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh, the Texas defense should provide the barometer.
TCU: at Baylor, Oct. 13 – The Horned Frogs will have already played two Big 12 games, but there’s something special when these two old rivals get together. Now, there’s something at stake in terms of the conference standings. Baylor won the epic game last year, 50-48, in Waco. But TCU needs this to immediately cement its place in the conference.
Texas: vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 13 – Just like Oklahoma, the Longhorns view this game as a turning point. But this is their only true rival since they no longer play Texas A&M. This is the final game in a demanding stretch as Texas’ first three Big 12 games are at Oklahoma State, home to West Virginia and the Sooners in Dallas. They could be anywhere from 5-0 to 2-3 depending on where this offense is going. They need a fast start in this game.
Texas Tech: vs. Baylor, Nov. 24 – This game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington should determine Tech’s bowl fate. The Red Raiders may be a little better than what the preseason polls suggest. Tommy Tuberville’s group has to pull off an upset along the way and really has to get its running game going for this game to mean something.
West Virginia: at Texas, Oct. 6 – There will be a lot of celebration the week before when the Mountaineers open Big 12 play against Baylor in Morgantown. However, if you want to put your stamp on a conference, winning in Austin would do it. West Virginia definitely has the firepower to do it. But it will be hot in Austin so this group better have its legs in the fourth quarter.