I've been slowly chipping away at this post here and there so I could get it done before fall camp started and hysteria began. Finally.
After I completed the 'Big 12 Non-conference Preview' several months back, I wanted to focus a tad harder on some of the individual games that caught my eye. The list here has a few of the more intriguing non-conference games that in some cases might be easily forgotten about.
Below, you're going to find 12 non-conference games where the Big 12 team will (as of now) be favored in - there are no Big 12 underdogs in the list. Simply put, these are games the Big 12 Conference should win according to the experts in Las Vegas. And if I were the given Big 12 team in each of these games, I'd be paying close attention to these opponents as they'll all rightfully come in with upset on their minds.
The rankings are based on my chances of the upset happening with #1 being the highest.
Here are the only lines available at this time courtesy of everyone's favorite, the Golden Nugget. If there's a game in question, make sure to check out the lines first. I threw in the line for the games where applicable and something to help with the eyes as you read.
** The Top 12 Big 12 Upset Alerts **
#12 - Oklahoma (-21) vs. BYU (Arlington) (9/5)
You're going to be mildly surprised to see Oklahoma make the list twice here, and I've got to give Oklahoma and Bob Stoops some credit as they certainly don't forget about scheduling coast to coast. The MWC is going to be a dogfight this season with BYU, TCU, and Utah, and many experts have BYU pegged as the team to beat in 2009. Returning are 3 All-MWC offensive players in QB Max Hall (3,957 yards, 35/14 TD/Int), bruising RB Harvey Unga (1,132 yards), and TE Dennis Pitta (1,083 yards, 6 TD's.) However, it's the other side of the ball that will be making the difference. With 8 starters returning on defense - including 7 of the front 8 - from last season, the Cougars think they'll be mightily improved in an area they've been notoriously soft in. Make no mistake that the BYU players and fans are excited and optimistic at a shot vs. the Sooners on a big stage in a neutral site. Of course, I'm by no means chalking up a BYU win, but I do think they have the tools to make this one close.
#11 - Houston @ Oklahoma State (9/12)
If there's ever been a classic letdown game, this is it. Oklahoma State will be one week removed from their showdown with Georgia. In last year's game, the Cougars were leading at halftime before giving up a total of 699 yards to Oklahoma State (L 37-56.) Houston QB Case Keenum has the potential to shatter the record books this season. Keenum, a dark horse Heisman candidate, threw for 5,020 yards (67%) and had a 44-11 TD/Int ratio in 2008. Last year's CUSA Frosh-POY RB Bryce Beall (1,247 yards, 6.3 avg.) and all of the top WR's from a year ago are back. And all although Houston did lose last year in Stillwater, these players have played here before which matters. Not once last season did the Cougars not gain at least 400 yards and it'll be interesting to see how far along the Cowboys' defense has come. It will be even more interesting to see how this team responds one week after Georgia leaves town.
More on Houston later.
#10 - Colorado State @ Colorado (-13) (9/5)
When looking at the 13 point spread, keep in mind that before last season the last 6 games between the schools have been decided by a combined 25 pts. This game is back in Boulder for the first time since 2005 and is one of the biggest non-conference rivalries outside of Missouri/Illinois. The Rams return 12 starters from their 7-6 team a year ago and must replace their starting QB and RB but will have 1st team All-MWC WR Rashaun Greer and 4 returning starter on the OL. CSU had a young defense that grew as the season went on last year - starring Fr. All-American Mychal Sisson at LB - and they have the potential to slow down what many think will be an explosive Colorado offense. Not likely.
#9 - Kansas @ UTEP (9/12)
I know I'm in the minority here, but something tells me 2009 has the potential to implode on the darlings of the Big 12 North early. Although I'm not calling for the upset here, I am saying I wouldn't be looking past Mike Price's Miners, especially down in west Texas. Back are 15 starters including QB Trevor Vittatoe, who had 3,274 yards and 33 Td's in his sophomore season and who Mike Price predicts will break the record books in El Paso. Potential All-CUSA WR's Kris Adams and Jeff Moturi along with 5 returning starters on the offensive line give this team more than a chance of blindsiding the Jayhawks. And if that doesn't concern you as a Kansas fan, then consider that the Jayhawks are 2-10 in the last 12 years in their 1st road game of the year.
More on Kansas later.
#8 - Iowa State @ Kent State (9/19)
It's hard to call this an upset alert when dealing with two schools like Kent State and Iowa State at the present time, but the Cyclones will come into this one favored and thus I need to deal with it. The Golden Flashes have 15 starters returning -as does Iowa State - that will be geared up for the Big 12 at home here. The Golden Flashes finished only 5-8 last season, but when they traveled to Ames and lost 28-48, they outgained the Cyclones 410-374 in total yards, had a 20-14 first down advantage, and had 6 turnovers. I think Paul Rhoads is going to have his hands full here on the road.
#7 - Colorado @ Toledo (Friday, 9/11)
I'm not exactly sure what the circumstances are involving moving a game from Saturday to Friday, but I can almost assure you that this isn't in Colorado's best interest. To go along with 16 returning starters, the Rockets return virtually their entire team by losing only 7 lettermen - 7! Back are QB Aaron Opelt and his 4,507 passing yards and So. RB Morgan Williams, who had 1,010 rushing yards including a 330 game vs. Miami all the while playing second string. If that doesn't sound the alarm, then think about this. The last two times the Rockets have played a Big 12 team at home: Kansas in 2006 - W 37-31 - and Iowa State in 2007 - W 36-35 (friday night.)
#6 - Kansas State @ Louisiana-Lafayette (9/12)
Whoever was scheduling the Wildcats for the 2009 season wasn't thinking clearly with this one. It's hard to make any sense at all from - #1 traveling to Lafayette in the first place and #2 then having to turnaround and head to UCLA the following week. What other BCS team would do that? You could argue that it's Louisiana-Lafayette. I'll argue that this is a Ragin' Cajuns' team that went 6-6 last season - including a 37-45 loss in Manhattan - and returns 16 starters including 9 on defense. I wouldn't give this game a chance in Manhattan, but down in the Bayou it's a different story. The young wildcat offense will have some growing up to do in a hurry with these two road games in September.
#5 - Southern Miss @ Kansas (9/26)
Clearly, Kansas will have the upper hand here in Lawrence as this is their last non-conference game before Big 12 play begins. The young, talented Golden Eagles were 2-6 last season before rolling off five wins (including a bowl win) to finish at 7-6. Back are 19 - yes, 19 - starters that have all had one year now under 2nd-year HC Larry Fedora and his spread offense. QB Austin Davis, who had 3218 passing yards and 23 TD/8 Int, potential All-American WR DeAndre Brown (6'6 with 1,117 receiving yards as a true-freshman), and Sr. RB Damon Fletcher (two-time 1st team All-CUSA) will form one of the more notable triple threats in college football this season. If you didn't read my Kansas preview, then know that the Jayhawks better find a defense that is better than last year's 447 yards/game to avoid this one. (Anyone from Nebraska remember when Southern Miss came to Lincoln in 2004?)
#4 - Oklahoma (-10) @ Miami, FL. (10/3)
10 pts. isn't much when you consider Oklahoma will come into this off a bye and Miami will have only week to prepare after a visit to Virginia Tech. However, this is Oklahoma and Miami. Back for the Hurricanes are 15 starters - 16 if you count QB Jacory Harris - including their top 2 RB's, top 4 WR's, top TE, and 3 O-lineman. Defensively, the Hurricanes have 7 of their top 10 tacklers back that will improve their overall defense that gave up only 317 yards/game last season. One other nugget of information you might want to consider is that Miami will have already played @ Florida State, Georgia Tech, and @ Virginia Tech before they get their crack at what could be the #1 team in the nation in Coral Gables. Circle it.
#3 - Georgia @ Oklahoma State (-3) (9/5)
The early line on this game is -3 for the Cowboys and with Georgia's recent success, that might come as a surprise to many outside the Big 12. We all know replacing QB Matthew Stafford with Joe Cox (5th year Sr.) and RB Knowshon Moreno with Caleb King is going to be a step down, but keep in mind the Bulldogs return their entire offensive line along WR's AJ Green and Michael Moore. Also helping the situation, the Bulldog defense returns 8 starters including two 1st-team All-SEC and one 2nd-team All-SEC players. And how is Mark Richt vs. ranked opponents on the road you ask? He's an unbelievable 10-2 in that category, he's 30-4 overall on the road, and he's never lost a season opener. Do not assume Oklahoma State will roll over the Bulldogs here. In fact, I'm already eyeing the moneyline.
#2 - Missouri (-5) @ Nevada (9/25 Fri.)
In last season's 69-17 drubbing of Nevada in Columbia, Gary Pinkel ran a fake field goal with the score 45-17 to make it 52-17. Nevada hasn't forgotten that. Besides dealing with the travel to Reno and playing at an elevation of 4600+ feet, the Tigers must find a way to contain QB Colin Kapernick, who was the WAC Player of the Year last season with a cool 2,800+ yards passing and 1130 yards rushing, and RB Vai Taua, who had 1521 yards last season as a rFR and was 1st team All-WAC. 14 returning starters who played in that game in Columbia last season, Friday night on ESPN, and a dark-horse Heisman candidate at QB spells major, major trouble for a young Tigers' team that lost 7 All-Big 12 players from their 2008 #98 ranked defense. We'll know much more about this Tiger defense after seeing what they can do with Illinois' QB Juice Williams and WR Arrelious Benn, which means you might want to bet this one now at +5 if you like Nevada.
#1 - Texas Tech @ Houston (9/26)
This game might not even be an upset by late September, but as of right now it is and it makes my #1. Texas Tech is in a bad, bad spot here. The Cougars will have two full weeks to prepare for the Red Raiders after their trip to Stillwater. More importantly, Texas Tech will only be one week removed from their oddly scheduled game @ Texas on September 17th. I have no doubt Mike Leach - the notorious cream puff - couldn't have anticipated the nightmare this one holds on the road. With only 11 starters back from last year's squad, Texas Tech isn't going to have much time to get things clicking to Leach's liking. I've already mentioned what the Cougars have back above and you cannot underestimate their desire for a win here with a home game vs. a BCS team from Texas. QB Case Keenum will have every opportunity in the world in the non-conference to showcase his talents, and if he can take advantage of it by the end of September, then he might emerge as one of the front-runners for the Heisman by the time he lights up CUSA.