Ranking the best of the Big 12's nonconference games

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

By my count, after looking at the upcoming calendar, we are now only 183 days from the start of the college football season.

I know that seems like an excruciating wait. And it is.

And there's still a lot of discussion time to go before the season starts.

Not only does it excite me about the start of the season, but it also got me looking at a calendar. Hence, the countdown.

Here is my ranking of the Big 12's best nonconference games a little less than six months out.

1. Georgia at Oklahoma State, Sept. 5: Everything could converge for Oklahoma State in the Cowboys' season opener. An experienced offensive team looking to build its defense will be meeting a Georgia team breaking in a new quarterback. This game might attract the first true sellout in the history of expanded T. Boone Pickens Stadium.

2. Nebraska at Virginia Tech, Sept. 19: The Cornhuskers' defense will be much improved than they were in the Hokies' 35-30 win in Lincoln last season. But Bo Pelini's hopes of springing an upset will depend on whoever is playing quarterback for them by that point of the season.

3. Oklahoma at Miami, Oct. 3: Dolphin Stadium has been a chamber of horrors for the Sooners in two recent BCS title game losses, but they should be ready against a Miami team that could be beat up after playing Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before this game.

4. BYU vs. Oklahoma (at Arlington, Texas), Sept. 5: The first college game to be played in the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium could be a big test for Oklahoma's rebuilt offensive line. This should be an entertaining game between two of the nation's top 20 teams in passing offense, total offense and scoring last season.

5. Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Sept. 5: The Tigers won't have nearly as much firepower back as last year and Juice Williams will be primed for the Illini. It could be a rough first baptism for new Missouri coordinators Dave Yost and Dave Steckel.

6. Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (at Arlington), Oct. 3: Two old Southwest Conference rivals rekindle their storied rivalry for the 66th time -- but the first since the Razorbacks bolted the SWC for the Southeastern Conference after the 1991 season. The fact that the game will be playing out at the new Dallas Cowboys' Stadium only adds to its mystique.

7. Texas Tech at Houston, Sept. 26: This game will be coming the week after Texas Tech travels to Texas in its first road game. It could be dicey for the Red Raiders, although they won their last two games at Houston against the Cougars in the final days of the Southwest Conference. Tech averaged 45 points per game in those games -- and that was long before Mike Leach had taken over the program. I'm expecting a shootout in this one with both teams combining for more than 1,000 yards.

8. Houston at Oklahoma State, Sept. 12: First team to 50 points wins this one. And I bet Houston defensive coordinator John Skladany still remembers that Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter, Dez Bryant and Zac Robinson pulled the 200-200-300 yardage feat in terms of rushing, receiving and passing in OSU's 56-37 victory last season.

9. Colorado at West Virginia, Sept. 26: The Mountaineers will be looking for payback after last season's overtime loss in Boulder that was settled by their kicking woes.

10. Missouri at Nevada, Sept. 26: Actually, I think this might be a better game than most. Colin Kaepernick should have the pistol firing for the Wolf Pack. It might be a tougher game than you might think for a young Missouri defense playing its first true road game.

11. Kansas State at UCLA, Sept. 19: This was the kind of game that Bill Snyder used to try to avoid back in the salad days of the Kansas State program. But a victory here could legitimize his early work as he rebuilds the program anew.

12. Kansas at UTEP, Sept. 12: This will be the biggest nonconference test for the Jayhawks and perhaps a tricky one. Todd Reesing should be able to score against the Miners, but the rebuilt Kansas defense could be in for test facing UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe on his home field. The Sun Bowl ought to be rocking for this one.

A couple of factors struck me as interesting as I looked at these games.

First, the Big 12 will have only two home games in these dozen pivotal contests. Oklahoma State hosts both of them. Three more will be played at neutral sites. But the other seven games will be road contests for the Big 12 team.

It means the conference will have an early chance to prove its mettle nationally, or fall behind.

Also, did you notice a significant team is missing from this list?

That's right. Maybe that's why Texas is ranked as the conference's top team coming into the season.

But the Longhorns assuredly won't get much BCS bounce from a quartet of nonconference games featuring Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida.

Mack Brown better hope the South Division is as tough as usual in 2009. Because he's not going to get much sympathy in a head-to-head comparison with most other national powers when nonconference schedules are compared.