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Lost opportunities mark Big 12's nonconference schedule so far

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nebraska's crushing collapse at Virginia Tech reverberated across the Big 12 Saturday afternoon as it played out.

In a nutshell, the Cornhuskers' tight loss represents how the first three weeks of the season have transpired for the Big 12. There was some early excitement before a deflating loss at the end.

Nebraska outplayed Virginia Tech for most of the game until a miraculous 81-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor gave the Hokies one last chance. And then a wild 12-second scramble by Taylor before hitting Dyrell Roberts with the game-winning TD pass with 21 seconds left sent the Cornhuskers crashing to a disappointing loss.

It was bigger for the Big 12 than merely one defeat. A Nebraska victory could have given the Big 12 a much-needed shot of credibility on a day that also included Baylor’s home loss to Big East middle-feeder Connecticut and Kansas State losing at UCLA.

It continued a string of recent squandered chances at missed opportunities that could have given the conference a legitimate chance to earn status as one of the nation’s best.

But the way to do that is to win a couple of attention-grabbing matchups against other BCS conference schools and stay away from upsets.

The Big 12 did that with early victories by Oklahoma State over Georgia, Missouri over Illinois and Baylor over Wake Forest during the first week of the season. But they haven’t notched many of those triumphs that make the pundits take note over the past two weeks.

The Big 12’s early record against other BCS conferences is 4-4. The biggest disappointment for the conference collectively has been five losses to teams from non-BCS conferences.

Nearly all of the expected Big 12 title challengers have shown blemishes.

Oklahoma was toppled in the opening week of the season by BYU. The defeat was devastating enough, but the loss of Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford for the next few weeks has been even worse for the Sooners.

Oklahoma State was the fashionable choice to contend with Texas and Oklahoma in the South Division and even soared as high as No. 5 in the AP poll after beating Georgia in the first week. But the Cowboys stumbled against Houston in another big loss to a non-BCS team.

Even Texas hasn’t been immune from those struggles. The Longhorns dozed through the first half of recent games against Wyoming and Texas Tech before having strong second-half finishes to punctuate both triumphs.

Colorado lost at home to Colorado State and was humiliated on national television five nights later at Toledo. And Kansas State dropped a game at Louisiana-Lafayette on a game that turned on special-teams miscues. The Wildcats became only the second school from a BCS-affiliated conference in the modern history of the Louisiana-Lafayette program to lose to the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Those losses were embarrassing. But the final two weeks will determine how the conference’s public perception is formed for this season.

There are a couple of more potentially troublesome games against non-BCS opponents this week as Texas Tech visits Houston, Missouri travels to Nevada and Southern Mississippi meets Kansas.

The conference’s team will all likely be underdogs when Oklahoma visits Miami, Colorado travels to West Virginia and Texas A&M and Arkansas meet at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The A&M-Arkansas game will be particularly big. If the Aggies could win that game, it would give the Big 12 a 2-0 edge in the regular-season series this season with the Southeastern Conference. And it would squelch much of the SEC’s crowing after two significant bowl victories over Big 12 teams last season when Mississippi beat Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl and Florida toppled Oklahoma in the BCS national championship game.

The Big 12’s perception still is a work in progress. The final two weeks of nonconference games will ultimately determine how it turns out.