By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Nothing better, as spring turns to summer, to get a little fix of football, Big 12 style.
And what better way to look at the upcoming season than to take a peek ahead at the Game of the Week in the Big 12. As you will see, there are a number of games to look forward to, even with a West Virginia team that is in a rebuilding mold and not expected to be a challenger for the conference title.
Here is the weekly breakdown:
Aug. 31 — TCU vs. LSU in Cowboy Stadium.
This really is the “initial” game of the year for a Big 12 team and it should go a long way toward showing whether or not TCU is one of the conference’s top teams as advertised.
Two years ago, of course, it was WVU who received an early test from LSU, always a power in the SEC, which translates into a national power as well, and even though the Mountaineers were a team that would win 10 games, LSU beat them up pretty badly at 47-21.
Sept. 7 — West Virginia at Oklahoma.
This the first conference game of the season and probably WVU’s biggest game of the year, as the Oklahoma name is among college football’s most revered. The Sooners, like WVU, are inexperienced and breaking in a new quarterback to replace Landry Jones in Blake Bell.
They also have work to do on their offensive line and will be doing it with Bill Bedenbaugh, the offensive line coach they stole away from WVU, showing the way ... as well as passing on how many Mountaineer offensive secrets.
All the technical items are in the Sooners’ favor, being at home and knowing that this year they don’t have to worry about Tavon Austin accounting for a near NCAA record 527 all-purpose yards and a school record 344 rushing yards in a game they still won, 50-49, on the road.
Sept. 14 —TCU at Texas Tech.
Not exactly a high-profile national game but one that will let us all know a lot about these teams.
TCU is on the road in a tough environment facing a team that is sky high in the midst of a ridiculously easy early-season schedule in which it plays at SMU, Stephen F. Austin, TCU, Texas State, at Kansas and Iowa State before it runs into WVU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State all in a row.
The easy start allows new coach Kliff Kingsbury to put in everything he wants while being able to get his team sky high while its only difficult early-season engagement is at home.
Kingsbury replaces Tommy Tuberville and comes in known for his offensive coaching, last year having been offensive coordinator at Texas A&M for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manzeil, but this year’s strength at Tech is supposed to be the defense.
Sept. 21 — Kansas State at Texas.
We now introduce you to the Texas Longhorns, favored to win the Big 12 this season. It is a huge year in the career of Longhorns’ Coach Mack Brown.
Texas has not reached double-figure victories in three years after it seemed to be a birthright of the Longhorns.
Brown has the best and most experienced quarterback in the conference returning in David Ash with running back Johnathan Gray and wide receiver Jaxson Shipley, weapons with which to work.
While K-State lost a lot from a year ago, Coach Bill Snyder rides the JC Express to rebuilding better than anyone and can’t be taken for granted. A win at Texas could change the entire Big 12 picture, not only this year but for years to come.
Sept. 28 — Oklahoma at Notre Dame.
Magical names in college football clash in a magical place, South Bend, Ind., amidst the ghosts of Rockne and Wilkinson, Parasegan and Switzer, and it is a game of such national importance that there is only one Big 12 game other than this being played this week — a rather large game in these parts when Oklahoma State comes to Morgantown.
Bob Stoops’ Sooners will have to be for real on the road against Brian Kelly’s forces, even without Irish quarterback Everett Golson, out for the season for academic reasons.
Oct. 5 — Kansas State at Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State suffered through a disappointing 8-5 season last year but the Cowboys weren’t as bad as they seemed, three of their four conference losses by a touchdown or less. They feel they can contend for the Big 12 title with three experienced QBs but know they must take care of business at home with games vs. TCU, K-State, Baylor and Oklahoma.
Oct. 12 — Oklahoma vs. Texas in Cotton Bowl.
This figures to be the Game of the Year (isn’t it usually?) in the Big 12, maybe even deciding the title at this early date. In Mack Brown of Texas and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, you have a pair of coaches who were dissatisfied with last year’s results and who know you can’t have a truly successful year without winning the Texas-Oklahoma shootout.
We, in West Virginia, are off this week, so we can sit back and root for both of them to lose.
Oct. 19 — West Virginia at Baylor.
Ah, speaking of shootouts ...
Last year it was West Virginia 70, Baylor 63 in Morgantown, and while a whole lot of the offensive talent that conspired to turn that game into the greatest offensive show in Milan Puskar Stadium history is gone, no one expects a 3-0 game this year in Waco.
Oct. 26 — Kansas State at West Virginia.
Two weeks in a row WVU is playing the Big 12’s top game, the Mountaineers and K-State’s season possibly coming down to this game. Neither figures to win the conference and a .500 league mark might depend on how this game swings.
Nov. 2 — West Virginia at TCU.
Three weeks in a row WVU is in the Game of the Week. Well, maybe with an asterisk. This is the second edition of the conference’s “Newcomer’s Bowl.”
They come off a great game last year, TCU winning, 39-38, in double overtime when Horned Frogs Coach Gary Patterson gambled on a two-point conversion and made it on Trevone Boykin’s two-point conversion pass to Josh Boyce.
The asterisk is that Oklahoma State hosts Texas Tech this same week, and if the Cowboys live up to expectations it could be a key game in their rush toward the title.
Nov. 9 — Texas at West Virginia.
What the heck, this may not look like the Game of the Week going in at this time of year, but it may be looked back upon it. WVU wasn’t supposed to win at Texas last year, either ... and everyone knows that the Mountaineers are awfully hard to beat at home.
Toss in that Texas could be caught looking ahead to Oklahoma State next week and you have the makings of a potential upset.
Nov. 23 — Oklahoma at Kansas State.
Will Oklahoma be in the chase for a title? The Sooners almost always are, and a late-season road game at a tough place to play against a wily old coach who will be looking for his own bowl spot figures to be a no-holds-barred battle.
Nov. 28 — Texas at Texas Tech.
This could prove a tough way to close out a conference title for Texas, if they can survive to this point, going on the road to face a team with a clever young coach and nothing to lose.
Nov. 29 or 30 — Iowa State at West Virginia.
Mentioned because it probably will decide which bowl WVU goes to this season.
Dec. 7 — Oklahoma at Oklahoma State.
Has all this pointed to this game?
It could be if Texas has faltered along the way. It could be true Bedlam if these two bitter rivals square off with national Big 12 championship dreams, and the game being in Stillwater makes it even that much more intriguing.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.