Last week we looked at six big chances for the Big 12 to earn some respect and lessen the impact of Nebraska and Colorado's impending exits from the conference.
But when the season starts in a little over a month the Big 12 will also have plenty of chances to cost itself some national street cred with losses.
Here are five potential upsets that could be embarrassing for both the team and the conference.
1) Sept. 5: SMU at Texas Tech
Of all the upsets on this list, this one has the highest potential to actually happen. Texas Tech should be soundly favored, but SMU won eight games a season ago and coach June Jones has the Mustangs on the right track. It'll be Game 1 of the Tommy Tuberville Era, and until the games are played, there's no way of knowing just how good the Red Raiders will be. SMU should be one of the best non-AQ teams in the nation, and they'll be looking hard for the upset.
But what lands Texas Tech on top of this list is the game time. They'll kick off on an NFL-free Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on a national ESPN broadcast. Lots of folks will be watching. Right or wrong, a loss means those eyes will dismiss the Red Raiders, and only an upset against Texas two weeks later will work toward erasing that.
2) Sept. 4: Missouri vs. Illinois in St. Louis
Missouri's dominated the Illini in the most recent incarnation of the Arch Rivalry, winning the past five matchups and debuting impressively with a 37-9 win last season. Without Juice Williams and Regus Benn, Illinois has found itself in the Big Ten basement. For Missouri, a team returning 18 starters and expecting to contend for a Big 12 North title, a loss would be crushing. The game will be broadcast regionally on Fox Sports Net, but the 12:30 p.m. ET kick means it'll be one of the first games of 2010. A loss would be an awful start for the Big 12, and the taunts from Big Ten fans, whose conference never invited Missouri to apply, might be a little more intense toward the Tigers.
3) Sept. 25: UCLA at Texas
Texas should be soundly favored in this game, but the Pac-10's Bruins will be playing their second Big 12 team of the season after facing Kansas State in the opening week. If Texas hasn't sorted out its offense by Week 3, it will have to rely heavily on its defense. The Longhorns will be tested against Texas Tech before playing the Bruins, but a low-scoring game in Austin could mean one or two bad bounces might produce a shocking loss for the reigning Big 12 champs.
4) Sept. 18: Air Force at Oklahoma
The Mountain West wasn't kind to the Sooners in 2009. BYU knocked out Sam Bradford and beat Oklahoma in the season opener in Dallas. The Falcons aren't the likeliest team to end Oklahoma's 30-game home winning streak, but this game should be Oklahoma's third toughest nonconference game and they won't have time to rest. Air Force won eight games last season, and blew out a good Houston team 47-20 in its bowl game. The Sooners secondary will get a workout in week two against Florida State's Christian Ponder, but this game should be all about Oklahoma's front seven. The Falcons' rushing attack rumbled for 3,685 yards last season, but if Oklahoma can contain the option attack with two new starters at linebacker, they should win convincingly.
5) Dec. 4: Nebraska vs. the Big 12 South in the Big 12 Championship in Arlington, Texas
This game probably wouldn't be much of an upset, and yes, Nebraska has to get there first, but this might challenge as one of the most intense Big 12 title games ever -- and likely the last. The better the teams, obviously, the more that would be on the line. Within reason: a 12-0 Nebraska playing a 12-0 Oklahoma as a de facto national semifinal. Another attractive matchup: a 12-0 Nebraska playing an 11-1 Texas team in a rematch of their mammoth Oct. 16 game in Lincoln with obvious national title implications the second time around. Like I mentioned last time, Nebraska leaving as Big 12 champions would be a worst-case scenario for Oklahoma and Texas, who have the most to lose if the Big 12's reputation takes a serious hit.