June 4, 2007

Nebraska leads way as Big 12 toughens up

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At a Glance
A quick look at how Olin Buchanan ranks the schedules, starting with the most difficult:
1. Nebraska 7. Oklahoma State
2. Texas A&M 8. Texas
3. Iowa State 9. Texas Tech
4. Colorado 10. Missouri
5. Oklahoma 11. Baylor
6. Kansas State 12. Kansas

A few years ago Big 12 Commissioner Kevin Weiberg urged league schools to upgrade their non-conference football schedules, which were typically infested with mid-majors and dotted with Division I-AA teams.

It appears the schedule-makers heeded his request, at least to some degree.

Big 12 schools in 2007 will face 10 opponents from other BCS conferences, which sets up several marquee non-conference games. Those matchups include: Nebraska vs. Wake Forest, Nebraska vs. Southern California, Oklahoma vs. Miami, Texas A&M vs. Miami, Oklahoma State vs. Georgia and Kansas State vs. Auburn.

But it's not like the Big 12 teams completely granted Weiberg's plea. Eight Division I-AA schools are on the schedules of Big 12 teams, which are also heavy on Sun Belt Conference opponents.

Of course, Big 12 advocates will argue the number of powerful programs in the conference provides the strength in scheduling, and that's true to a point.

1. Nebraska
Nebraska schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 22
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 23
Opponent
Nevada
at Wake Forest
USC
Ball State
Iowa State
at Missouri
Oklahoma State
Texas A&M
at Texas
at Kansas
Kansas State
at Colorado
Why: While some Big 12 teams prefer to schedule Division I-AA opponents, the Cornhuskers' non-league foes include Southern California, Wake Forest and Nevada - all played in bowl games last season. They also play Ball State, which threw a scare into Michigan late last year. Road trips to Texas and Missouri highlight the conference itinerary.
Toughest game: Seemingly everyone's preseason No. 1 is Southern California, which has a Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback John David Booty and a talented, experienced defense. The Trojans' trip to Lincoln on Sept. 15 is their first legitimate chance to prove they're as good as anticipated.
Cakewalk: Iowa State's pass defense was among the weakest in the country in 2006, while Nebraska's passing combination of quarterback Sam Keller and receiver Maurice Purify could be outstanding.
Trap game: Normally, an opponent coming off an 11-victory year can't set a trap. But Nebraska defeated Wake Forest 31-3 in 2005. The Huskers might not believe the Demon Deacons can duplicate the magic of a year ago. More likely, though, Nebraska has to be careful not to look ahead to USC the following week.
Changes from last season: Coach Bill Callahan must be wondering who he angered? Louisiana Tech, Troy and Division I-AA Nicholls State are off the slate. Nevada, Ball State and Wake Forest were added. Southern California is the only non-conference opponent that was also on last year's schedule.
2. Texas A&M
Texas A&M schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 20
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 23
Opponent
Montana State
Fresno State
La.-Monroe
at Miami
Baylor
Oklahoma State
at Texas Tech
at Nebraska
Kansas
at Oklahoma
at Missouri
Texas
Why: A trip to Miami is the only non-conference threat, but the real test will be road games to Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri.
Toughest game: It would be easy to say Texas or Oklahoma, but any year the Aggies are forced to travel to Lubbock there is a chance for disaster. The last two trips there resulted in a 56-17 blowout in 2005 and a 59-28 blowout in '03. The Aggies can never seem to get a grip on Mike Leach's offense when the game is in Lubbock.
Cakewalk: A&M should get off to a 3-0 start. They open against Division I-AA Montana State then face Fresno State and Louisiana-Lafayette all at Kyle Field. That leads up to a trip to Miami. Well, the stroll was nice while it lasted.
Trap game: Between road trips to Nebraska and Oklahoma is a home game against Kansas on Oct. 27. The Aggies needed two fourth quarter touchdowns to rally past the Jayhawks in Lawrence last year. Of course, playing at home will boost the Aggies. Right? Not really. The Aggies are 9-11 at home in Big 12 games over the last five seasons and were 1-3 at Kyle Field last year.
Changes from last season: Army was the strongest non-conference opponent A&M faced in 2006. This year it's Miami. Huge difference.
3. Iowa State
Iowa State schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 22
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 17
Opponent
Kent State
Northern Iowa
Iowa
at Toledo
at Nebraska
at Texas Tech
Texas
Oklahoma
at Missouri
Kansas State
Colorado
at Kansas
Why: State rival Iowa is always there and is by far the best of the non-Big 12 competition. It's the conference schedule where Iowa State really gets hosed. They have to play Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech from the South Division. By the way, the Cyclones also go to Nebraska and Missouri.
Toughest game: Iowa State hasn't beaten Oklahoma since 1990, and in the last four games the Sooners have averaged 41.7 points to the Cyclones' 7.2. Quarterback is a big question facing OU this season, but the Sooners will likely have that figured out by the time they travel to Ames on Oct. 20.
Cakewalk: Calling Northern Iowa a cakewalk might seem inaccurate considering Iowa State only won 28-27 last season. But that's still a Division I-AA team facing a BCS conference team on the road. Here's betting Iowa State wins more comfortably this year.
Trap game: Toledo came close to trapping the Cyclones in Ames before falling in triple overtime in last year's season-opener. This time the Cyclones play the Rockets in the fourth game of the season - on the road. That matchup comes a week after playing Iowa and a week before facing Nebraska.
Changes from last season: Kent State replaces UNLV on the non-conference schedule. Texas and Oklahoma come to Ames, but the Cyclones go on the road for three of their five games against North Division opponents.
4. Colorado
Colorado schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 22
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 23
Opponent
Colorado State
at Arizona State
Florida State
Miami (Ohio)
Oklahoma
at Baylor
at Kansas State
Kansas
at Texas Tech
Missouri
at Iowa State
Nebraska
Why: Starting off with state rival Colorado State, Arizona State and Florida State could put the Buffaloes in a 0-3 hole. They get Oklahoma and Texas Tech from the South Division. Nebraska and Missouri both come to Boulder, so that's a plus.
Toughest game: Arizona State might be due for a breakout year with 10 returning starters. The trip to Tempe doesn't figure to be easy for the Buffaloes, who were beaten by the Sun Devils 21-3 last year. The Sept. 8 playing date is so early that Colorado's new starters may still be settling in.
Cakewalk: You've got to favor Colorado at home against Miami (Ohio) University, which managed just two victories in 2006
Trap game: In spite of their struggle in '06, the Buffaloes still defeated Iowa State. This year they go to Ames a week after hosting Missouri and two weeks before taking on rival Nebraska.
Changes from last season: Subtracting Division II Montana State and Georgia and adding Miami (Ohio) and Florida State largely amounts to a push. This year they make two trips against South Division teams instead of one, and they get the top North Division teams Nebraska and Missouri in Boulder.
5. Oklahoma
Oklahoma schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 21
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 17
Nov. 24
Opponent
North Texas
Miami
Utah State
at Tulsa
at Colorado
at Texas (Dallas)
Missouri
at Iowa State
Texas A&M
Baylor
at Texas Tech
Oklahoma State
Why: Like A&M, the Sooners will face Miami. However, the Hurricanes go to Norman. OU gets the majority of its strongest Big 12 opponents at home, too.
Toughest game: It's Texas. It's always Texas. That mid-year clash always seems to run in cycles, and the Longhorns have won the last two.
Cakewalk: The Sooners should complete September with a flourish. In a three-week span, OU plays Utah State, Tulsa and Colorado. Utah State and Colorado combined for three victories in 2006. Yeah, Tulsa won eight, but does anyone think OU will lose to Tulsa? Not with Bob Stoops on the sideline.
Trap game: OU rarely loses in Norman, but when Missouri visits on Oct. 13 the Sooners better not have a hangover from the previous week's game against Texas. Oklahoma was good, but not great against the pass last year. The Tigers can throw the ball around pretty well. Offensively, OU figures to overpower Missouri, but if the Sooners aren't sharp there could be some serious nail-biting going on in Memorial Stadium.
Changes from last season: The non-conference schedule certainly got easier with no road trip to Oregon. Miami is the marquee non-league game, but the Hurricanes must come to Norman. North Texas, Utah State and Tulsa don't figure to be much of a problem. The Sooners get Missouri, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State at home.
6. Kansas State
Kansas State schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 17
Nov. 24
Opponent
at Auburn
San Jose State
Missouri State
at Texas
Kansas
Colorado
at Oklahoma State
Baylor
at Iowa State
at Nebraska
Missouri
at Fresno State
Why: Bowl game winners Auburn and San Jose State will force the Wildcats to prove themselves before Big 12 competition starts. The South Division opponents include Texas and Oklahoma State on the road. They also go to Nebraska.
Toughest game: The Wildcats' 45-42 upset of Texas knocked the Longhorns out of the national championship race last year. The Longhorns will be looking for revenge when the Wildcats come to Austin on Sept. 29.
Cakewalk: Missouri State finished 2-9 last year and was tied with Indiana State for last place in the Gateway Conference standings. Just for the record, Missouri State lost to Indiana State. Look for the Wildcats to break some long runs, and they won't break a sweat.
Trap game: A week after opening the season on the road at Auburn, Kansas State comes home for an apparent victory over San Jose State. But (let's all do our Lee Corso impressions), not so fast my friend. The Spartans went 9-4 last year and return the majority of their starters. This could be an upset if the Wildcats aren't focused.
Changes from last season: Despite setting up a stoning of Missouri State, the Wildcats have clearly changed their scheduling philosophy since the days of Bill Snyder. The Wildcats drop Louisville. However, they add Auburn. San Jose State and Fresno State are bona fide Division I-A programs. This year Kansas State goes on the road to Texas and Oklahoma State, which the Wildcats beat in Manhattan last season.
7. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 14
Sept. 22
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 17
Nov. 24
Opponent
at Georgia
Florida Atlantic
at Troy
Texas Tech
Sam Houston St.
at Texas A&M
at Nebraska
Kansas State
Texas
Kansas
at Baylor
at Oklahoma
Why: A road game at Georgia is a huge challenge, and going to Troy won't be easy. The Cowboys also face Nebraska and Kansas State from the North.
Toughest game: There are several to consider at Georgia, at Texas A&M, at Nebraska and Texas at home. Yet, the Cowboys' game at Oklahoma in the regular-season finale figures to be the toughest. Not only is it a bitter rivalry, but Oklahoma State's biggest questions are on the offensive and defensive lines. OU is expected to be excellent in those areas.
Cakewalk: Division I-AA Sam Houston is mediocre at best. This should be a name-the-score kind of outcome for the Cowboys.
Trap game: Even though Troy toils away in the disrespected Sun Belt Conference, the Trojans did post eight victories in 2006 - and don't forget they had a fourth quarter against Florida State. If the Cowboys look ahead to a Sept. 21 conference-opener against Texas Tech, they might look foolish in a road game at Troy on Sept. 14.
Changes from last season: The presence of Georgia raises the difficulty of the schedule alone, but playing Troy rather than Arkansas State is also an upgrade. Facing Texas A&M, Nebraska and Oklahoma on the road add to the degree of difficulty.
8. Texas
Texas schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 22
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 23
Opponent
Arkansas State
TCU
at UCF
Rice
Kansas State
Oklahoma (Dallas)
at Iowa State
at Baylor
Nebraska
at Oklahoma State
Texas Tech
at Texas A&M
Why: TCU is the best of an otherwise bland group of non-conference games. The Longhorns do get a home game against Nebraska from the North, but also go to Iowa State.
Toughest game: It's Oklahoma. It's always Oklahoma. Even with Texas winning the last two in the series, OU coach Bob Stoops is still 5-3 against the Longhorns.
Cakewalk: The Longhorns have won their last seven season-openers, and Arkansas State won't pose a problem in making it eight in a row. Texas has outscored its last three season-opening opponents by a combined 201-10.
Trap game: Even when fielding inferior teams, Kansas State has given the Longhorns trouble (see last season's 45-42 Wildcats' victory). The game is in Austin this year, but the last time the Wildcats ventured into Royal-Memorial Stadium Texas had to sweat out a 24-20 victory in 2003. That year the game was the week before Texas faced Oklahoma. It is this year, too.
Changes from last season: Old Southwest Conference rival TCU is a formidable non-conference opponent, but it's not like facing Ohio State - which drops off the slate. No other non-conference opponent is a threat. The alternate change of venues allows Texas the advantage of facing Kansas State, Nebraska and Texas Tech in Austin, but the Longhorns go to Texas A&M.
9. Texas Tech
Texas Tech schedule
Date
Sept. 3
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 22
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 17
Opponent
at SMU
UTEP
at Rice
Oklahoma State
Northwestern St.
Iowa State
Texas A&M
at Missouri
Colorado
at Baylor
at Texas
Oklahoma
Why: The non-conference schedule is unimpressive, but the South Division is the strength of the Big 12. The Red Raiders close the season at Texas and at home against Oklahoma. They also travel to Missouri.
Toughest game: A Nov. 10 trip to Texas figures to be difficult. The Red Raiders have lost in their last four trips to Austin and were blown out in three of those.
Cakewalk: Last year the Red Raiders severely beat up on a Division I-AA opponent, trouncing Southeast Louisiana 62-0. They enjoyed it so much the Raiders scheduled Division I-AA Northwestern State. The result should be similar.
Trap game: A year ago, Tech didn't seem to take UTEP all that seriously and needed overtime for a 38-35 victory. The Miners could provide another scare if the Red Raiders aren't careful.
Changes from last season: Rather than TCU, Tech will play Rice early. That translates to replacing a loss with a win. The Raiders travel to Texas, but get Oklahoma and Texas A&M in Lubbock.
10. Missouri
Missouri schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 22
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 17
Nov. 24
Opponent
at Illinois (St. Louis)
at Mississippi
Western Michigan
Illinois State
Nebraska
at Oklahoma
Texas Tech
Iowa State
at Colorado
Texas A&M
at Kansas State
Kansas (at K.C.)
Why: Western Michigan is the only non-Big 12 Missouri faces that managed a winning record in 2006. The Tigers go to Oklahoma, but A&M, Nebraska and Texas Tech travel to Columbia.
Toughest game: Even without Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma defeated Missouri 26-10 in Columbia last year. Now, the game goes to Norman where the Sooners have lost just one conference game in the Bob Stoops era.
Cakewalk: The term can be defined as any game against a Division I-AA opponent. That would be Illinois State, which travels to Columbia on Sept. 22.
Trap game: By the time Missouri travels to play Kansas State on Nov. 17, Wildcats quarterback Josh Freeman will have almost two full seasons under his belt. His expected improvement could make that game dicey for the Tigers. So could the fact the game comes a week after facing Texas A&M and a week before playing rival Kansas.
Changes from last season: Some of the names change, but the strength (or weakness) of the schedule remains about the same. Division I-AA Illinois State replaces Division I-AA Murray State, MAC contender Western Michigan replaces MAC contender Ohio and Illinois replaces New Mexico. This year the Tigers go to Ole Miss, but get Texas A&M and Texas Tech at home.
11. Baylor
Baylor schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 22
Sept. 29
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 17
Opponent
at TCU
Rice
Texas State
at Buffalo
at Texas A&M
Colorado
at Kansas
Texas
at Kansas State
Texas Tech
at Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Why: Opening on the road against TCU is tough. So is playing in the Big 12 South Division and facing Oklahoma and Texas A&M on the road.
Toughest game: The last time Baylor played at Oklahoma, the Bears pushed OU into overtime. Think Oklahoma has forgotten that? No way. OU pummeled Baylor by 26 points last season, and this year OU figures to be equally dominant. Baylor desperately needs to patch up a run defense that allowed almost 200 yards per game last season, and Oklahoma's running game should be outstanding.
Cakewalk: Baylor usually can't take any games for granted, but the Bears can feel pretty secure of posting a two-game winning streak with back-to-back games against Division I-AA Texas State on Sept. 15 and then at Buffalo.
Trap game: Colorado was a punching bag in 2006, but figures to be better this season. The Bears, who beat the Buffs by a field goal in Boulder last year, cannot afford to expect the same kind of Colorado team. Plus, the Bears must be careful to avoid a hangover from the previous week's emotional game against Texas A&M.
Changes from last season: Exit Washington State and Army. Enter Rice and Buffalo. That will help. Baylor went undefeated against North Division teams in 2006, but two of the rematches this year are at Kansas and Kansas State.
12. Kansas
Kansas schedule
Date
Sept. 1
Sept. 8
Sept. 15
Sept. 22
Oct. 6
Oct. 13
Oct. 20
Oct. 27
Nov. 3
Nov. 10
Nov. 17
Nov. 24
Opponent
Central Michigan
SE Louisiana
Toledo
Fla. Int.
at Kansas State
Baylor
at Colorado
at Texas A&M
Nebraska
at Oklahoma State
Iowa State
Missouri (at K.C.)
Why: Half the Jayhawks' opponents had losing records last season. That includes Division I-AA Southeastern Louisiana, which was 2-9. They also avoid Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech from the South and get Nebraska and Missouri in Lawrence.
Toughest game: Missouri dominated the Jayhawks 42-17 last year, and quarterback Chase Daniel passed for 356 yards. Kansas must repair the nation's worst pass defense by the time the Jayhawks face Missouri in the regular-season finale on Nov. 4. Missouri returns all the primary parts of the nation's 10th-ranked pass offense, and should be better this year.
Cakewalk: Death and taxes are the only sure things, but Southeast Louisiana (which Kansas plays on Sept. 8) should be next after finishing just 2-9 in Division I-AA in 2006.
Trap game: Kansas might have taken Toledo lightly last year and paid for it with a 37-31 loss in double overtime. The Jayhawks won't make that mistake again this year. Or will they?
Changes from last season: The non-conference lineup gets easier. Central Michigan replaces South Florida, Florida International replaces Louisiana-Monroe and Toledo comes to Lawrence. But road games to South Division foes Texas A&M and Oklahoma State don't foster a lot of optimism.

More: ACC | Big Ten | Big East | SEC | Pac-10 | Non-BCS I | Non-BCS II | Ultimate Road Trip

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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