Every Saturday is important, right? Every college football coach utters the same weekly cliche about how their team is taking it game-by-game, and no one 60 minutes is bigger than the next.
That’s a fine sentiment for coaches and players, but for fans and media, some games are more significant than others — particularly in the final season of the four-team playoff.
I started the series by looking at the most paramount conference games for every team in the SEC. I then outlined the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. We wrap the series today with a look at the most important games for teams in the Big 12.
Reminder: A team’s most important game could be a rivalry. But it could also be a trap game on the schedule or potential upset spots. Just because one team’s most important game may be against your alma mater though, doesn’t mean it’s the most significant conference matchup for your favorite school.
The most important 2023 Big 12 conference games:
Baylor — Sept. 23 vs. Texas
Dave Aranda’s squad is eyeing a rebound season after going 6-7 a year removed from winning the Big 12 Championship in 2021.
The Bears’ schedule includes eight home games this fall — four to start the season. Their first Big 12 conference game is against a Texas team that beat them 38-27 last season. The two in-state rivals have traded wins every other year since 2017, and a victory over the preseason Big 12 favorite would be a real boon for Aranda — and potentially position Baylor to contend for a spot in the title game come December.
BYU — Sept. 23 at Kansas
The Cougars are playing a full conference schedule for the first time in a dozen years, and they open Big 12 play at Kansas in Week 4.
While many other games on BYU’s schedule are more exciting matchups, if the Cougars want to go bowling this fall, they need to find a way to win in Lawerence before their conference schedule starts to really stiffen. They host Cincy the very next weekend, but then have a three-game stretch against TCU, Texas Tech and Texas — all games they’ll be underdogs.
They probably won’t be favored at Kansas, either, but it’ll be a coin-flip type affair and an important game for BYU if it hopes to avoid the cellar of the Big 12 this fall.
Cincinnati — Sept. 23 vs. Oklahoma
The Bearcats open Big 12 play welcoming Oklahoma to town in late September. This is a major opportunity for new head coach Scott Satterfield to make a statement early in his Cincy tenure.
While the Bearcats are expected to take a step backward in 2023, securing a signature win over Oklahoma in the Sooners’ final season in the Big 12 could give the program a jolt of momentum for the rest of the fall.
Cincy doesn’t draw Texas, Kansas State or TCU in Year 1 in the conference, and it gets Iowa State, UCF and Kansas at home.
Houston — Oct. 12 vs. West Virginia
Some will scoff at this choice, especially with Houston hosting TCU in Week 2 and then renewing its rivalry its former Southwest Conference foe Texas in late October, but this game carries plenty of stakes for Dana Holgerson and Neal Brown.
Both coaches sit on varying degrees of hot seats, with the showdown having a real loser-leaves-town feel. Holgerson bolted West Virginia because of a lack of institutional support and the difficulty of competing in the Big 12, and now he faces his former team in a battle to potentially avoid who finishes last in the same league in 2023.
Iowa State — Sept. 23 vs. Oklahoma State
After starting the 2022 season 3-0, the Cyclones finished 4-8 last fall — 1-8 in Big 12 play with six losses coming by a single score. Matt Campbell’s squad has one of the tougher draws in the league in 2023 (Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor are all on the schedule), which is why getting off to a fast start in conference play looks critical to their hopes of making a bowl game this season.
Outside of the weird 2020 COVID season, the Cyclones haven’t won their Big 12 opener since 2015.
Kansas — Nov. 18 vs. Kansas State
Lance Leipold is 8-17 in two seasons at Kansas, but the overall record does little justice on just how far he’s changed the trajectory of the program since his arrival in 2021.
He snapped the Jayhawks’ 18-game losing streak against Big 12 opponents with an upset over Texas in Year 1. In 2022, he had Kansas featured on ESPN’s College Gameday, ranked in the Top 25 by midseason and took the team bowling for the first time since 2008.
The next test? End an 18-game losing streak to in-state rival Kansas State. It certainly won’t be easy, as the Wildcats are among the likeliest Big 12 contenders this season, but Kansas does return one of the most experienced rosters in the country led by senior quarterback Jalon Daniels.
Kansas State — Oct. 14 at Texas Tech
The reigning Big 12 champs could (should? Will?) be 5-0 before a trip to Lubbock in mid-October against a Texas Tech team looking to make a statement in 2023.
The Wildcats won a 37-38 shootout against the Red Raiders last fall, and victory this season could setup another run to the league title. Kansas State doesn’t play Oklahoma this year, gets TCU at home and has a very manageable second-half slate (vs. Houston, at Kansas, vs. Iowa State) outside a tough game at Texas.
Oklahoma — Oct. 7 vs. Texas (Dallas)
The final Red River Rivalry game as members of the Big 12 carries all sorts of stakes in 2023. The Sooners were embarrassingly blanked 49-0 by the Longhorns in Brent Venables’ first season — OU’s worst-ever defeat in the showdown series.
While the Sooners’ Big 12 opener at Cincy is a potential upset spot on the schedule — especially if that becomes a night game at Nippert Stadium — they have a September slate that should allow a new-look defense to gel before facing the Longhorns’ explosive offense.
The winner of this game projects to sit in the cat-bird seat to make the Big 12 Championship.
Oklahoma State — Oct. 6 vs. Kansas State
After a turbulent offseason in Stillwater, it’s hard to pinpoint what sort year to expect from the Cowboys this fall. By avoiding Texas, TCU and Texas Tech, their schedule is actually among the more favorable slates in the league. But what sort of shape is the roster in?
While September games against Arizona State and Iowa State — both on the road — will be early season tests, we’ll find out just how different the Cowboys are in 2023 when they host Kansas State to open October. The Pokes were blasted 48-0 by the Wildcats last season, kickstarting a second-half spiral that saw them lose five of six down the stretch.
If they pull an upset this fall though, the opposite could occur. After hosting K-Stake, Oklahoma State goes Kansas, at West Virginia and Cincy — all winnable — before hosting Bedlam for the final time in the near future.
TCU — Oct. 21 at Kansas State
Despite a slew of NFL departures off last year’s magical team, TCU still should field a competitive squad in 2023. The Horned Frogs have an extremely back-loaded schedule, as they project to be favorites in their first seven games.
Then a brutal gauntlet awaits. TCU finishes with trips to Kansas State and Texas Tech before hosting Baylor and Texas. The Frogs play at Oklahoma in the season finale.
They’ll be looking to exact some revenge against the Wildcats, who upset TCU in the title game in 2022.
Texas — Oct. 7 vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)
The Longhorns had nearly 600 yards of total offense in their demolition of the Sooners in 2022, averaging over 7.2 yards per play in the 49-0 shellacking.
While a repeat performance seems unlikely, Texas will be favored to win back-to-back Red River Showdown games for the first time 2008-09. The Sooners get to ease into their 2023 schedule, but the Longhorns will be much-more battle-tested early with a Week 2 game at Alabama and a Week 4 trip to Waco to play Baylor.
Texas Tech — Nov. 2 vs. TCU
The Red Raiders are a darkhorse contender for the Big 12 title in 2023, returning 15 starters off a team that beat Oklahoma and Texas in the same season for the first time in school history last fall.
As previously outlined, a mid-October affair in Lubbock against Kansas State is a marquee matchup, but for TTU, a home date vs. TCU to open November has the potential to loom even larger.
Joey McGuire & Co., will have two weeks to prepare for last year’s national title runner-up, and a victory could kickstart a November sprint for the Red Raiders, who have games against Kansas, UCF and at Texas to end the year.
UCF — Sept. 30 vs. Baylor
While the Knights’ Big 12 introduction comes a week earlier, they’ll host their first conference game in the Bounce House at the end of September against Baylor.
The two schools have squared off once before — a 52-42 shootout win by UCF in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
West Virginia — Oct. 11 at Houston
This is pretty simple: The Mountaineers have a head coach in hot water and a roster that’s been picked over by the transfer portal. They’re projected to finish last in the Big 12 in 2023.
So with Neal Brown facing a “win now” season, can he really afford to lose to the guy he replaced in Morgantown — who may also get fired by Houston at season’s end?
My new On3 colleague Andy Staples has suggested Brown play complete “YOLO-ball” in 2023, and he probably should do just that to avoid an embarrassing loss to the Cougars in mid-October.