The Big 12 could water down the Southeastern Conference's strength of schedule with a 1-2 punch on college football's opening weekend.
On August 31, Texas Christian University plays Louisiana State University in Arlington and Oklahoma State University plays Mississippi State University in Houston.
The Big 12 could use a boost in credibility, since Kansas State lost 35-17 to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl and Oklahoma lost 41-13 to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl Classic. Those were the league's highest-tiered bowls.
But that was last year.
This year, Oklahoma State and TCU should contend for the Big 12 crown. The Cowboys return 15 starters and the Horned Frogs return 16. Can they beat two very good SEC teams?
While the SEC does not venture out of the South's comfy confines very often, it has been open to playing games against BCS opponents in neutral venues. Arlington is not neutral. It is just a 30-minute drive east on the Tom Landry Freeway from TCU's home in Fort Worth.
If TCU beats LSU, the shock waves will be felt because a former Mountain West team will have beaten a squad from the toughest division in college football.
Alabama and LSU are the West's heavyweights, but Texas A&M is rising up quickly. Because they play in the SEC West, the Tide's schedule is usually never questioned. This year, it appears to be very, very soft.
Alabama plays five 2012 bowl teams—only three had winning regular-season records last year. That won't help Alabama's SOS unless Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas go on a tear this year.
Alabama needs LSU to have a 10- or 11-win season to help its SOS. An LSU loss to TCU will diminish the SEC's contention that the reason for its teams' mediocre or losing season records is that its teams beat up on each other. A TCU win moots that point.
The Tigers defense has been a strength of the team, but it lost all four starting linemen to the 2013 NFL draft. Though the defense returns a total of four starters, the roster is loaded with great potential. LSU may finally have a quarterback who can field a great offense—Zach Mettenberger had an impressive spring.
The running back situation is concerning. Jeremy Hill was arrested on a battery charge in April. Hill was suspended from the team, but if he is found guilty, he will have violated his two-year probation stemming from a 2012 incident involving a minor.
TCU has an outstanding defense including Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields and All-American cornerback Jason Verrett. Quarterbacks Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin have starting experience and every unit returns largely intact.
All the pieces are in place for a BCS run.
LSU head coach Les Miles has a knack for overachieving in years when his team's outlook is tempered. This looks like one of those years. A win by LSU is expected. A loss will be devastating to the conference.
Mississippi State is a program dying to get respect. The Bulldogs have improved greatly, with three consecutive winning seasons and three consecutive bowl berths. They have also been a little overrated.
Last year, the Bulldogs posted an 8-5 season, but lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl. Their victories came against Jackson State, Auburn, Troy, South Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State and Arkansas. The FBS teams had a combined 29-56 record.
Oklahoma State's offense has always impressed, but its defense has been panned by critics. The Cowboys defense is probably underrated.
Last year, the Cowboys beat Louisiana 65-24. No. 7 Florida beat Louisiana 27-20. Oklahoma State clearly outperformed Florida against a shared opponent, but still got labeled with the no-defense tag.
Against high-octane offenses, Mississippi State does not fare well. Three of the top four SEC offenses scored at least 38 points on the Bulldogs. They lost to Alabama 38-7, Texas A&M 38-13 and Mississippi 41-24.
Unless the defense improves—the unit returns just five starters—Oklahoma State may be too much to handle.
Losing to two Big 12 teams on college football's opening weekend is not the end of the world, but it will have proved one thing. Maybe two.
The SEC West is beatable.
And the Big 12 is better than the so-called experts believe.
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