While many people may think that it is just a two-horse race in the Big 12 between Oklahoma and Iowa State, that is not the case by any means.
Teams such as Texas, Oklahoma State, and TCU are looking to make some noise and dethrone the Sooners from the top of the Big 12, where they have supplanted their flag à la Baker Mayfield at Ohio State style for the past six years.
Being the lone conference where every team squares off head-to-head every season, there is certainly an opportunity for the unexpected to happen and throw the whole conference out of whack.
This season there are about four to five teams that should they play up to their maximum potential and possibly contend for a spot in the Big 12 title game. That is if they survive the gauntlet of what is the regular season. While there are teams that are expected to contend, and teams like TCU can be a major dark horse.
Schools like Texas Tech and Baylor are a year away from being a year away when it comes to being relevant and able to contend in the Big 12.
And of course, there is Kansas…
Let’s take a look at the games that have major Big 12 Championship Game implications.
Texas vs. Oklahoma - Sept. 9
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This may seem like an obvious one, but Texas really needs to win this game. Not only to build confidence but assuming they beat the teams they should prior, a win here will allow them to control their destiny the rest of the way, unlike in years past. Previously, Texas has had to hope for a string of events of other teams losing to even have a chance to make the Big 12 Championship. Last season, this game came down to a controversial decision to not go for two by Tom Herman and ended in a fourth overtime win for the Sooners. With Steve Sarkisian coming in, this will be a great test of Oklahoma's defense which coming into 2021 is one of the most underrated in the country. Whoever is starting at quarterback for the Longhorns will look to do what Sam Ehliger could not, and that is to have a winning record against Oklahoma. This will likely gauge Texas' progress as, under Herman, it seemed as if they had to consistently play catchup against the Sooners. Sarkisian and his offense will look to be the aggressors. Pete Kwiatkowski's defense will also need a big performance here as Oklahoma has averaged 40 points in this game over the last five years, and consistently exposed the Texas defense. Spencer Rattler also is likely looking to redeem his brief benching during last season's matchup, and make a case for the Heisman. Texas needs this win to show that this program is heading in the right direction.
Oklahoma at Kansas State - Oct. 2
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This week five matchup in Manhattan is one that is a must-win for both teams for a multitude of reasons. Starting with recent history, although Oklahoma has been dominating the overall series, while Kansas State has won the last two meetings. With the way Oklahoma played over the latter half of the season, a win against the Wildcats could have seen the Sooners get a nod for another playoff appearance. Skyler Thompson's health is something Kansas State needs in order to win, as he has dominated the Sooners with his legs running for a total of seven touchdowns in their past two meetings. When it comes to Kansas State, this is likely the best opportunity since Colin Klein's days they have had to contend. They are returning practically their whole offense, and head coach Chris Klieman has expectations for the team to take the next step.
Texas at Iowa State - Nov. 6
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Although Texas has won seven out of the last 10 matchups, Iowa State has won two in a row. Last season this game was likely the dagger that ended Herman's tenure in Austin and Iowa State pushed the two-star vs five-star narrative after winning by three. It is games like this one for Texas that emphasize why Sarkisian who is an offensive mastermind was the right man for the job. This was a horrendously played game for Texas' offense last season, as they could not generate any offense after the first quarter. This also was one of the many games where the much-improved defense of Texas could not bail out the lackluster offense. Iowa State played Cinderella last season, winning the Fiesta Bowl over Oregon, and are returning nearly every starter on both sides. Matt Campbell and Brock Purdy have an immense amount of pressure to bounce back after last year's Big 12 Championship loss and prove that contending nationally can be sustained. Given that this game takes place in Week 9, Texas will know where they stand and what their chances are in the Big 12 after this game. Whereas Iowa State will still have to finish off their tough schedule against Oklahoma and TCU. A prime opportunity for Texas to not only avenge last year's devastating loss but secure some confidence for the remainder of the season.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State - Nov. 27
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The last matchup of the season for both teams and a heated rivalry. Oklahoma State is such a mystery and is truly the definition of boom or bust. They returned their star running back Chubba Hubbard and wide receiver Tylan Wallace last season, had a show on ESPN Plus hyping them up as that was supposed to be the best Cowboys team in program history, and they lost three games and did not even make the Big 12 Championship. Spencer Sanders' health has been an issue, and he missed most of this matchup last year because of injury. The Cowboys can only go as far as Sanders takes them - which, when he is healthy, has shown signs of being really good. However, Oklahoma has dominated this matchup winning the last six meetings and last year's matchup 41-13. Expect this year's game to be a lot closer if Sanders remains healthy, and depending on how both teams do in their previous games against Texas, TCU, and Iowa State this will likely decide someone's fate for the Big 12 Championship.
Texas at TCU - OCt. 2
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A game that was only decided by two points and the fumble in the picture above, TCU is looking to continue their win streak against the Longhorns and extend it to three in a row. This will be TCU's first game of the season in Big 12 play so they will want to start out strong. However, the Horned Frogs are the biggest dark horse in the Big 12. Max Duggan showed some flashes last season as a runner and passer and is looking to take that next step. Texas is not the only team with a former five-star stud running back, as TCU is hoping for Zach Evans, to explode onto the scene. They are returning a couple of senior wideouts, and it is a Gary Patterson defense so it will certainly be up to snuff. Especially with defensive tackle Corey Bethley returning, and Memphis defensive back transfer T.J. Carter who had seven picks with the Tigers. For the Longhorns, redemption has to be on their mind. This game is right before they take on Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Having a sputter this early in the season could be detrimental. This game can be a huge indicator as to how Steve Sarkisian has changed the culture at Texas. They were a better grip on the ball away from winning this game last season, and it can also serve as a showcase for the revamped offense and defense.
Week 11 Oklahoma vs. Iowa State
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This game served as a preview of the Big 12 Championship last season, with Iowa State taking the win in the first matchup, but Oklahoma getting redemption in the Big 12 Championship. These two teams have the least room for error this year, and neither can really drop a game prior to this because of this matchup. Both are favored to make the Big 12 Championship again, battling it out for the second year in a row. They played close both times as the first game was decided by seven, and the second decided by six. The Sooners and Cyclones inadvertently can determine the fate of other schools such as Texas or TCU as a result of this game. Based on how last season went, the winner of this matchup, given everything goes right for them prior, will likely punch their ticket to the dance. The loser might have to count on other teams to win or lose in order to return to Jerry World. Brock Purdy played terribly in the second matchup, throwing three interceptions that eventually proved to be too much to overcome. Winning this game and making it back to the Big 12 Championship would be huge for Iowa State, while Oklahoma might be dealing with the most Big 12 competition in their six-year defense this season. This game can very well ruin someone's Big 12 and College Football Playoff hopes.
TCU at Iowa State - Nov. 26
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Iowa State and TCU are arguably the worst team for both to end their season on because of how talented they both are, This matchup will determine the outcome of multiple team's seasons. Iowa State has a dreadful last four weeks with Texas, a possible trap game in Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and then finishing it off against TCU. The Cyclone's season and hopes could end in the span of the final four weeks. Gary Patterson's defense is always tough to face, but them sensing any source of weakness will absolutely crush Iowa State's season. Since Iowa State also features solid defensive play, it will likely come down to quarterback play. This season and game, in particular, will show the nation if Brock Purdy is for real, or if he was a flash in the pan. If Iowa State can survive this game, along with the other prior weeks, they could truly be the first Big 12 team to get the nod for the College Football Playoff not named Oklahoma. TCU on the other hand can finish what to many would be a surprise season if they contend, but this team is shaping up to emulate the Treyvon Boykin days. It all comes down to who can win the battle at quarterback. Will it be Max Duggan or Brock Purdy standing victorious? It will not be easy, but this game can very well serve as the difference between being in, and being on the outside looking in.