It’s no big secret that each member of the Big 12 Conference’s South Division plays the same five division foes every year. Add in the three North Division opponents and you have the eight league games that determine who will represent the South at the league’s annual football championship game, which this year, will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. However, before league play begins, each team will face several non-conference foes. Here’s a look at where each South team’s toughest test will lie this fall among their non-conference games.
9/18 at TCU
The Horned Frogs come off a 12-1 season and are No. 6 in most preseason polls. TCU did lose standout defensive end Jerry Hughes and solid linebacker Daryl Washington to graduation. Both starting corners Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders, were also seniors. On the offensive side of the ball, running back Joseph Turner has also departed and TCU will have a new starter at left tackle. Other than that, this will be same old team that won their first 12 games a year ago, the Mountain West Conference title and secured a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.
Baylor last played TCU in Fort Worth in 2007 and lost 27-0. The Horned Frogs were ranked 22nd and blanked the Bears for the first time in two decades when the two schools were members of the Southwest Conference. TCU should be somewhat battle-tested heading into this one, especially after facing Oregon State, who was 8-5 in 2009 and played in the Las Vegas Bowl, in their Sept. 4 season opener at Cowboys Stadium.
However, the Bears will also have two games under their belt in Sam Houston State, whom Baylor opens with on Sept. 4 and Buffalo, whom they play one week later. In 2007, Baylor faced the Bulls in upstate New York and left town with a 34-21 win, so there is a good chance both teams will be 2-0 heading into this one. The week before they host the Bears, TCU will face Tennessee Tech.
9/25 at Cincinnati
Like Baylor, the Sooners’ toughest game of their non-league schedule also figures to be against a team that was 12-1 one year ago. The Bearcats finished sixth in last year’s final poll and are No. 8 in the preseason poll. Star quarterback Tony Pike, who threw for 2,520 yards with 29 touchdowns and just six picks, has graduated but junior Zach Collaros is back. He passed for over 1,400 yards with 10 touchdowns and two picks last fall.
Running back Isaiah Pead, who ran for over 800 yards and nine touchdowns last fall as a sophomore, also returns for Cincy. Armon Binns, who caught 61 passes for 888 yards and 11 touchdowns, also returns. He was the team’s No. 2 pass catcher last fall. These teams have met before. In 2008, the Bearcats traveled to Owen Field to face the Sooners and left with a 52-26 defeat. This time, they teams meet at Paul Brown Field, home to the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals. Cincy does so with a new coach as Brian Kelly is now at Notre Dame. This will be a key early test for new head coach Butch Jones.
Both squads figure to come into this contest well-tested. Cincinnati opens the year on Sept. 4 with a trip to Fresno State, always a hostile environment for visiting teams. After facing Indiana State in week two, the Bearcats hit the road again to face NC State of the ACC for a Thursday night game in Raleigh on Sept. 16. They will then have nine days to prepare for the Crimson and Cream’s visit to the Queen City.
OU opens the year with Utah State on September 4. While the Sooners figure to have an easy time with the Aggies from the WAC, they face Florida State the following week in Norman. On Sept. 18, Bob Stoops’ team will face another bowl team from 2009 in Air Force, who was 8-5 last year and finished fourth in the Mountain West, behind three teams who all won at least 10 games last fall.
Now, this might not be a trap game that some think it is, but then again, it could be a potential pothole for the Sooners. OU has somewhat of a history of losing to tough non-conference foes away from home. Last year, it was a 21-20 loss at Miami. In 2006, there was the controversial loss at Oregon. In 2005, the Sooners fell at UCLA and back in 1999, Stoops’ first year at the helm, there was a setback at Notre Dame.
9/11 vs. Troy
OSU has faced the Trojans from the Sun Belt Conference twice before. In 2008 in Stillwater, the Cowboys prevailed, 55-24. Just one year before, they met on Troy’s home field and the Trojans handed O-State a 41-23 defeat in the first-ever meeting between the schools. Troy finished 9-4 overall, including a perfect 8-0 mark in conference play last year and they clearly aren’t a team to take lightly.
Star quarterback Levi Brown, who threw for nearly 4,300 yards, 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions, has graduated but junior Dontavious Parker could be an able replacement. At running back, Shawn Southward, who ran for over 600 yards and 12 touchdowns, returns along with Dujuan Harris, who had 583 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Trojans also return their top two receivers from last year. Jerrel Jernigan caught 71 passes for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns while Tebiarus Gill caught 47 balls for 581 yards and six touchdowns.
While Troy returns most of their key skill players on offense, the same can’t be said for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys. Brandon Weeden figures to be the new man under center for the Pokes after Zac Robinson graduated. Star running back Keith Toston also has graduated and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant, who played very little in 2009, is also gone. O-State also lost their top o-lineman Russell Okung, who could go in the top five of the 2010 NFL Draft later this month.
However, if there is a silver lining on offense, it is the return of one Kendall Hunter to full health. Now a senior, Hunter has overcome the foot injury that limited him to just eight games as a junior. It was just two years ago as a sophomore, that he ran for more than 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns to earn first-team All-American honors. In the loss to Troy in 2007, Hunter ran for 125 yards and in last year’s win, he had 169 yards rushing and a pair of scores.
Troy opens their 2010 campaign one week earlier by hosting Bowling Green. Last fall, the Falcons from the Mid-American Conference, were 7-6 overall and earned a berth in the Humanitarian Bowl. The game figures to be a nice tune-up for the Trojans’ trip to Stillwater the following week. OSU also starts their season on Sept. 4, when they host Washington State of the Pac-10 at Boone Pickens Stadium. In 2009, the Cougars finished 1-11 with their lone win coming over SMU, a team that ended a 25-year bowl draught. WSU was easily one of the worst teams in the nation last year, not exactly a good primer before facing a team like Troy.
For more complete coverage regarding the Big 12, check out FoxSportsSouthwest.com.