Oklahoma and Texas. Texas and Oklahoma.
They’re the story in the Big 12 in 2009, right? Well, not exactly. Not if you know anything about the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Last year, the Longhorns and Sooners battled all season for control of the Big 12, staving off an unexpected challenge from Texas Tech along the way. The same two teams appear to be the league’s best in 2009, but don’t count out the up-and-coming Cowboys, who return three offensive superstars and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Here, we take a look at the games that will shape the Big 12 championship race in 2009.
Texas Tech at Texas (Sept. 19)
(Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
The Red Raiders-Longhorns game might have been the best of 2008, a back-and-forth thriller capped off by the signature play of the season: Graham Harrell’s last-second touchdown pass to the incomparable Michael Crabtree. Here’s the bad news for the Red Raiders, though: Harrell and Crabtree are gone. But Texas quarterback Colt McCoy isn’t. Tech looks like it may be in for a rebuilding year, and this game will be its first big test. They won’t pass it. Look for the Longhorns to enjoy some serious revenge.
Nebraska at Missouri (Oct. 08)
(Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Mizzou has been the Big Dog in the Big 12 North of late, but with Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin off to the NFL, the Tigers figure to have more trouble scoring this year than they have in a long time. The door is open for Bo Pelini and Nebraska to take back control of the North, and they can send an early message with a big win here, on the road in Columbia.
Kansas State at Texas Tech (Oct. 10)
Bill Snyder is back in Manhattan, facing another reclamation job. He doesn’t have enough talent to challenge for the North title in 2009, but it will be interesting to see if he can start whipping his Wildcats into shape. The Red Raiders may take K-State lightly here, opening the door for a Wildcats upset. It could happen, too. You just put anything past Snyder, one of the most underappreciated geniuses in the game.
Missouri at Oklahoma State (Oct. 17)
(G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)
The Cowboys used a 28-23 win over Mizzou last season to catapult themselves into the Top 10. Then they faltered down the stretch and missed out on the Big 12 title game. These teams were somewhat evenly matched last year—just a step behind Oklahoma and Texas—but the Cowboys are clearly better in 2009. They'll show it here. Mizzou simply doesn’t have enough defense to control that Cowboy offense. Or enough offense to keep up.
Oklahoma at Texas (Oct. 17)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
If Texas-Tech Tech wasn’t the best game of 2008, then Texas-Oklahoma was. The Red River Rivalry has always been great, but rarely has the ‘Horns-Sooners showdown mattered as much—or been so electric—as it was last year. Though Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was nearly unstoppable (387 passing yards, 5 touchdown passes), Texas’ Colt McCoy came through in the clutch, carrying his team to an emotional 45-35 win. Look for more of the same in this one. Both Bradford and McCoy finished in the Top 3 in Heisman voting last year and both will be there again come December. Two of the best players in the country. Two of the best teams in the country. Possibly the best game of the year.
Texas at Oklahoma State (Oct. 31)
If Texas does survive Oklahoma, they better not get too comfortable—because the Cowboys will be waiting two weeks later. Coach Mike Gundy has slowly but steadily built a legitimate contender in Stillwater, and his 2009 squad has a great chance at making a program-changing run to BCS. Quarterback Zac Robinson, wideout Dez Bryant and tailback Kendall Hunter are three of the best at their positions in the country, and the Cowboy offense is going to put up some serious points. With home-field advantage and a talented, experienced team, it might be hard to bet against the Cowboys here.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Nov. 28)
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Oklahoma returns the nucleus of its outstanding 2008 squad, and, just like Florida, the Sooners are going to be expected to make another trip to the BCS Championship Game. Assuming the Sooners get past Texas on Oct. 17—and, no, that's not an easy assumption to make—this showdown with the Cowboys figures to be the last hurdle standing between them and a likely rematch against Tim Tebow and Florida. The Cowboys almost always play the Sooners tough. But this year, they might actually have enough talent to beat them.