Just a few years ago, West Virginia playing Texas or Oklahoma facing Texas Christian would have made interesting bowl match-ups. Now, they’re regular season games on the new-look Big 12 Conference schedule.
With West Virginia and the Big East Conference dropping their dueling lawsuits, the Mountaineers — who reportedly will pay the Big East a $20 million settlement — officially join the Big 12 on July 1. Now that West Virginia and TCU, which is leaving the Mountain West Conference, are in, the 10-team Big 12 released its football schedule last week.
Fans can fire up the RVs for match-ups such as West Virginia making its Big 12 debut at home against Baylor Sept. 29, the Mountaineers visiting Texas Oct. 6, a likely Thanksgiving matchup between TCU and Texas in Austin, or Oklahoma visiting TCU in Fort Worth on Dec. 1.
Mountaineer fans will see a lot of the Southwest, with trips to Texas Tech in Lubbock Oct. 13 and Oklahoma State in Stillwater Nov. 10.
Conference realignment has created an ever-changing landscape in college sports. While the departures of teams from their old leagues has ended some longtime rivalries, in the Big 12’s case, it has infused the regular season with meetings between national powers.
“The new opportunities to play these teams creates a lot of excitement,” Texas ticket broker Zach Anderson, chief operating officer of Ticket City, told TicketNews. “There’s a clear uptick in interest.”
Perhaps no conference has seen more change than the football-mad Big 12. In the past 17 months, four of its members fled to new leagues. Texas A&M and Missouri will join the equally football-crazed Southeastern Conference next season. Last year, Nebraska joined the Big Ten and Colorado, with Utah from the Mountain West, turned the Pac-10 in the Pac-12.
With the departures, traditional rivalry games such as West Virginia’s “Backyard Brawl” with Pittsburgh, the Kansas-Missouri “Border War” and the Thanksgiving night Texas-Texas A&M match-up have gone away, too.
“Even though A&M is a big rivalry and that’s tough to lose,” Anderson said, “you’re bringing in two of the nation’s best teams into your conference.”
West Virginia and TCU are included in most preseason Top 25 polls. West Virginia returns quarterback Geno Smith to run an offense that ran up a bowl-record 70 points against Clemson in their Orange Bowl victory. TCU won the Rose Bowl in 2011 and is coming off a third consecutive Mountain West title. The Horned Frogs’ 2012 prospects may have taken a hit last week when four players, including three starters, were arrested in a campus drug sting.
“A lot of people think West Virginia can win the conference in their first year,” Anderson said. “Then, you’ve got Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma, the old guard fired up because they don’t want to see these newcomers come in and win their conference.”
TCU has essentially taken over what was Texas A&M’s Big 12 schedule while West Virginia inherited Missouri’s. The TCU-Texas game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 24, but will likely be moved two days earlier to Thanksgiving, to replace the Longhorns’ traditional game with A&M.
The new schedule will regularly bring together rabid fan bases that would have only met occasionally, if at all.
“Don’t underestimate from a fan perspective the curiosity of traveling to the new schools to see a game,” Anderson said. “[West Virginia athletic director] Oliver Luck was on the radio [in Texas] telling Big 12 fans to come on down to West Virginia. He’s selling that fan experience there in Morgantown and West Virginia fans are going to travel to see their team, too.”
Oklahoma last faced West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl in 2008, losing 48-28. They’ll meet Nov. 17 in Morgantown. Texas and West Virginia have met only once before, a 7-6 Mountaineers victory back in 1956. On Nov. 3, the two Big 12 newcomers will square off when TCU visits West Virginia in their second meeting ever.
“There’s lots of negatives in realignment,” Anderson said. “Rivalries get broken up, but this creates new matchups and it’s worked out well.”