Best Big 12 Non-Conference Game: Kansas State or Texas?
By Steve Pipps
The non-conference games in the Big 12 are usually nothing to write home about. During the BCS, the focus was more on wins against easy opponents and less on the strength of the non-conference schedule.
The College Football Playoff ushers in a new era of non-conference game planning. With increased importance on strength of schedule, teams will have to schedule harder non-conference games and still get the all-important win.
Two season-openers feature big-name teams, but are far from the best. Oklahoma State faces off against Florida State and West Virginia plays Alabama. The defending national champs should easily take down the young OSU squad and the Tide should roll over the Mountaineers.
These two games don’t cut it because there isn’t enough firepower on the Big 12 side. To be the best non-conference game there needs to be the right amount of intrigue on both sides of the ball. There are two games that stand out as top-tier Big 12 non-conference games.
Kansas State plays Auburn on Thursday, Sept. 18, in Manhattan, Kansas and a KSU win would be a big boost for the Wildcats. The new Charlie Strong Texas team, meanwhile, travels to Arlington to play the UCLA Bruins led by Brett Hundley. Hundley is hungry to take the Bruins to the inaugural playoff.
The Case for Kansas State vs. Auburn:
The Wildcats are poised for a big year in the Big 12. Head coach Bill Snyder has weapons on offense in Jake Waters and his favorite target Tyler Lockett. Last season Waters had just under 2200 passing yards with 15 TDs. Lockett is poised for a record breaking season. With 74 receptions, 834 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns Lockett can pass his father, who currently leads KSU receivers in all three categories.
We know Auburn is a good team, as proven by their appearance and solid but ultimately futile play in the national championship game. The Tigers return quarterback Nick Marshall who is known, among other things, for his fourth quarter pass to wide receiver Ricardo Louis that helped them top Georgia.
The Tigers are losing running back Tre Mason who was a force in the backfield last season and a Heisman Trophy finalist. Mason finished with over 1800 rushing yards and 23 TDs. Auburn has talent in the backfield to help ease the loss, but we won’t know if they can fill the gap until we get into the season.
That being said, this match-up is going to be a catfight. Pun intended. If Kansas State gets the win, they could not only start the season 3-0 (with wins over SF Austin and Iowa State) but they can start their argument for dark horse candidate for the playoff.
The Case for Texas vs. UCLA:
Texas and UCLA have played each other six times in their storied histories, the first game in 1970. Both teams have three wins and they last played in 2011. Granted this game is in a “neutral location” but lets not twist the facts. This game is a home game for Texas. UT fans have to travel a paltry 200 miles to watch the game live, while UCLA fans have to travel 1433 miles.
Home game or not, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things for this match-up. Both teams have two wins on the road compared to one at home, the last going to Texas in 2011 in Pasadena, Calif.
The Longhorns have David Ash at the helm again. He was cleared to fully participate in practice and his main concern throughout the season is staying healthy. Ash and the Longhorns have been pushed by Strong throughout the off-season to put the “’T’ back in Texas.” They need to carry that drive and passion into the season. Strong is already saying his team won’t make the championship game, but he might just be trying to down play the hype.
UCLA is the favorite in the PAC-12 South and is a dark horse for the inaugural playoff. Hundley is a dynamic player who can make things happen with both his feet and his arm. Last season he led the team in rushing with 587 yards and 9 TDs and had 22 TDs through the air. If he has anything to say about it, not only will UCLA win the Pac-12 South, but they will be in the playoff and Hundley will be in New York in December.
As for best non-conference game, the answer sits in Bill Snyder Memorial Stadium. Kansas State and Auburn is too good of a matchup. Classic coach Bill Snyder against new offensive goliath Gus Malzahn. Jake Waters against Nick Marshall. The Big 12 has a chance to overthrow the SEC again. KSU has the best chance at an upset here.
These two teams have faced off three times since 1978 and Auburn has walked away victorious each time. It’s time for Kansas State to get a notch in the win column and turn this into a budding rivalry.