Six games to earn some respect

The Big 12 isn't necessarily lacking in respect. As we learned earlier this summer, it's generally regarded as the second or third-best conference on the field entering this season. Two consecutive national runner-ups didn't hurt, and Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas did their best to dispel the "no defense" myth (that may have previously been a reality) throughout the conference before the 2009 season.

With Nebraska and Colorado preparing to exit the league, that respect might dip a bit after the 2010 season. And everybody wants all the respect they can get.

So here's five games throughout the season that will give the Big 12 a chance to earn some -- and keep it after trimming down to 10 teams.

Here's the list from which these games were selected:

1) Oct. 9: Texas A&M vs. Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas

The Aggies will be the only one of the remaining 10 Big 12 teams (Colorado hosts Georgia a week earlier) who'll get a shot at a team in the conference that denied the Big 12 a national title in each of the past two seasons. Like Texas A&M, Arkansas has taken on a darkhorse role in the SEC title race, but the Hogs should be favored, rested, ranked and tested heading into this game, coming off a bye week following a home date against Alabama. Arkansas, who finished 89th nationally in total defense last season, shut down the A&M offense and beat the Aggies 47-19 in the first year of the teams' 10-year series. If they can't produce a different result this season, they'll be serenaded with an "S-E-C!" chant on the way back to the locker room.

2) Sept. 11: Florida State at Oklahoma

The Sooners fearsome 30-game winning streak (the nation's longest home streak and the longest in Oklahoma history) at Owen Field and likely a top-10 ranking should make them the favorite in this game, but Florida State's offense will give Oklahoma's defense a test. A big win might bump the Sooners into the top 5, but a loss would likely send them tumbling out of the top 15, handing them an early loss for the second consecutive year.

3) Sept. 18: Baylor at TCU

The top of the league is important, but if the Bears can spring the upset here, it'd be proof of the Big 12's depth and make a bowl less elusive for the Bears. Eight months ago, TCU was in a BCS bowl and returns a team that should enter the season in the top 10. Baylor will be a big underdog, and an upset would bring plenty of national attention to Waco.

And depending on how they do it, dare I say a dominating performance by Robert Griffin would put him on the short list for the "H" word moving forward?

4) Sept. 4: UCLA at Kansas State

Kansas State left L.A. a convincing 23-9 loser a year ago in a game that eventually cost them a bowl berth. The Wildcats should be better this season, and a win against a major conference team in Manhattan would be a good step toward proving it. UCLA isn't a great Pac-10 team, but they'll be good enough to win this game, though Kansas State should be favored.

5) Sept. 11: Iowa State at Iowa

Iowa embarrassed the Cyclones in Ames last season, 35-3, and the Hawkeyes should be Big Ten contenders once again, while the Cyclones were picked to finish last in the Big 12 North. Iowa State could be better than its seven-win team a year ago, but Iowa is the toughest stop on its difficult nonconference tour. They'll have the longest odds to win of any team on this list, but a home loss would return last year's favor, embarrassing the Hawkeyes and the Big Ten.

6) Oct. 16: Texas at Nebraska

Oh, yes. Put it this way: Nebraska's exit will be a much bigger deal if they leave as Big 12 champions than if they leave as second-place finishers in the North. If I'm Texas or Oklahoma and don't want the league to be perceived as significantly weaker, I'm cheering hard for Missouri to win the North. Texas has the best chance to hand the Huskers a conference loss, followed closely by Texas A&M and Missouri.