Kevin Jairaj

2016's best Big 12 non-conference games

Non-conference games are an increasingly important part of the college football season, and it's no different in the Big 12.

Non-conference play is critical in today's college football landscape, whether it's a title contender or a team just looking to make a bowl game.

Let's take a look at the best non-conference games for the Big 12 this season.  

1. Oklahoma vs. Ohio State 

Where: Norman, Oklahoma 

When: September 17th, 2016

What's at stake: This has the potential to be an early national championship preview. Quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield are slated to go up against each other in a battle of top-ranked teams. The loser of this game will have an uphill climb to make it into the College Football Playoff, while the winner will be a frontrunner for the national championship. The Sooners hope that running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon can have success against a tough Ohio State run defense led by linebacker Raekwon McMillan and defensive end Tyquan Lewis.  

2. Texas vs. Notre Dame 

Where: Austin, Texas

When: September 3rd, 2016

What's at stake: Notre Dame blew the Longhorns out 38-3 in the first week of the 2015 season, but Texas hopes to keep things a bit closer this time around. It's critical for the Irish to start the season strong, but the quarterback issue has yet to be resolved. Should they opt for Malik Zaire, who started last year but broke his ankle in the third week of the season? Or do the Irish go with DeShone Kizer, who stepped in and also played well? Meanwhile, Texas is looking to start the season off with a huge statement win at home. The Longhorns hope to have athletic quarterback Jerrod Heard ready for the start of the season after he missed most of the spring with a sprained shoulder. He did not play against Notre Dame game last season. 

3. Oklahoma vs. Houston

Where: Houston, Texas

When: September 3rd, 2016

What's at stake: Before their showdown with the Buckeyes, the Sooners will have to get past a talented Houston team. The Cougars are led by Heisman candidate Greg Ward, who became the first Houston quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, finishing with 1,108 yards last season. The Cougars enter 2016 with momentum after upsetting Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Though the game is technically being played at a neutral sight, it's a home game for the Cougars for all intents and purposes at NRG stadium in Houston, though Oklahoma's fans travel well. This will be the first step for the Sooners to prove that last season's Big 12 title and College Football Playoff appearance was no fluke.

4. West Virginia vs. BYU

Where: Landover, Maryland

When: September 24th, 2016

What's at stake: An opportunity for both teams to prove that they belong in the top 25. West Virginia struggled with consistency, last season but at times showed that they could belong in the Big 12's upper echelon. With a win, the Mountaineers would likely head into conference play undefeated. BYU will enter the game after three straight against Pac-12 opponents. Facing an elite offense like West Virginia could prove to be a challenge for the Cougars. If BYU starts the season with three straight wins and then beats West Virginia though, they could be considered early playoff contenders.   

5. TCU vs. Arkansas

Where: Fort Worth, Texas

When: September 10th, 2016

What's at stake: TCU is partially rebuilding after losing Trevor Boykin, but expect the Horned Frogs to be competitive again this season. A win over Arkansas is critical for them to build momentum heading into conference play. Kenny Hill is a transfer from Texas A&M who's slated to step in and give the team solid quarterback play. If he plays like he did early in his career at Texas A&M, TCU should be in good shape. On the other side, Arkansas seeks to break through in the SEC West Division after going 8-5 last season.     

6. Kansas State at Stanford

Where: Stanford, California

When: September 2nd, 2016

What's at stake: Trying to replace Kevin Hogan will not be easy for the Cardinal, but whoever gets the nod will have Heisman frontrunner Christian McCaffrey at running back. Kansas State will be looking to improve on their shaky 2015 season. If the Wildcats can improve their defense, expect them to be competitive in this game. Stanford wants to make the College Football Playoff, but Kansas State would love to spoil that.

7. Oklahoma State vs. Pittsburgh

Where: Stillwater, Oklahoma 

When: September 17th, 2016 

What's at stake: This is Oklahoma State's biggest non-conference test of the season. Showing up and playing well in this game will show what they can do when conference action begins. The Cowboys will need to limit Pitt running back James Conner, who was fortunately declared cancer-free. Conner is a load, and it'd be wise for the Panthers to attack a weak Cowboys run defense. Pitt will also be looking to make a statement before heading into ACC play. Playing in the Coastal Division, the Panthers have a shot at beating out the likes of North Carolina and Miami for the right to play in the ACC Championship game. Winning a game against a quality opponent from a Power Five conference would be a nice way to head into the season's most pivotal games.


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