Ranking the Top 30 Big 12 nonconference games of 2014

We are inching our way closer to football season. Here are 30 reasons to start getting excited!

Richard Rowe-USA TODAY Sports

I come bearing good news: If you read this entire article, the season will be somewhere around 15 minutes closer when you finish. 

This year's nonconference slate is one of the best in recent history across the Big 12. It plays 11 games against major conference teams (Including BYU. I don't care what you think, ACC and SEC) and has just seven games against FCS squads. 

It plays both national title game participants from last season, four teams who should open the season in the top 15 and four games against SEC opponents. 

Today, we'll take a closer look at the Big 12 schedule and rank all 30 nonconference games. 

1. Kansas State vs. Auburn: Kansas State has the best chance of pulling an upset in the four nationally relevant Big 12 nonconference games. We'll see how much Nick Marshall has grown as a passer, but the SnyderCats could snag a huge coup for the Big 12. Is Auburn really 13 points better than this Bill Snyder team? It's at home on a Thursday night and returns a solid QB and the Big 12's overall playmaker. Consider me skeptical. 

2. Oklahoma State vs. Florida State: Jimbo and The Fightin' Jameises will open the season at JerryWorld against a rebuilding Oklahoma State team. Expectations for OSU are lower than usual this year, and the Seminoles are chasing a national title repeat by beginning their season where they hope to end it. FSU hasn't played a game in Texas since 1992. If OSU keeps this close into the fourth quarter, I'd count it a success. 

3. Texas vs. UCLA: We'll learn a whole lot about Charlie Strong and the Longhorns in Arlington on Sept. 13. Heisman hopeful Brett Hundley will bring a top 10 Bruins team to AT&T Stadium. A Texas win or close loss would earn Strong a little respect from his fans and the rest of the Big 12. 

4. West Virginia vs. Alabama: Nick Saban's not a big fan of the no-huddle, and supported a recent rule change proposal that would limit no-huddle offenses like Dana Holgorsen's at West Virginia. Holgorsen's response at last year's media days? "Get over it, because it's not going to change," he said. This is a tall order for the Mountaineers, who still have major QB questions, but the atmosphere in Atlanta should be great on the opening weekend. You want Bama? You got 'em. 

5. Texas vs. BYU: Strong faces a five-game grinder after opening against North Texas, and a win for the Longhorns here would be enormous. Lose, and a 2-4 start for UT is a real possibility with as many as three top 10 opponents scheduled for their next four games. 

6. Oklahoma vs. Tennessee: Call this one an All-Uniform game. Just like when OU played Notre Dame, there's something special about seeing these two programs on the same field together. Butch Jones is building in Knoxville, but a win for the Vols in Norman is asking a lot. 

7. Texas Tech vs. Arkansas: Bret Bielema and Kliff Kingsbury will battle in Part II of college football's battle for tempo. Bielema spearheaded the since-spiked rule change limiting fast-paced offenses. The two are polar opposites on the field. The Red Raiders led the nation with 1,135 plays last season. Arkansas was 118th of 125 teams with 775. Kingsbury may try to run 150 at the Hogs out of spite. Game on. 

8. West Virginia at Maryland: Considering the Mountaineers lost last year's game 37-0, there's only one way to go. WVU's difficult nonconference schedule isn't helping Dana Holgorsen's shaky job status. He needs at least seven wins to feel comfortable. 

9. Iowa State at Iowa: Never underestimate the amount of heat in this corn-fed rivalry. The Cyclones had a strong finish to a frustrating 2013 season, but this game is always a good barometer for ISU. Under Paul Rhoads, it has never beaten Iowa and missed a bowl game in the same season. Since 2000, Iowa State has beaten Iowa seven times and missed a bowl game in just one of those years--a 3-9 campaign from Gene Chizik in 2007. 

10. TCU vs. Minnesota: More teams need to schedule games against major conference teams like Minnesota. The Golden Gophers aren't outstanding, but they're more fun than suiting up against UTEP or a random mid-level Mountain West team. 

11. TCU at SMU: The Iron Skillet gets a bad rap. It's an underrated rivalry trophy, and with as much as SMU throws the ball, it'll be interesting to see Devonte Fields get cut loose chasing the passer. This game will be in Week 5, but TCU will have already had two bye weeks by then.

12. Texas vs. North Texas: Danger! Danger! This reeks of a trap game for Texas in Week 1. Former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney led the Mean Green to a bowl win last season and if Texas comes out sluggish or loses the turnover battle, this has nightmare opener written all over it. Before you shrug this off as impossible, don't forget that Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe in his first year at Alabama. I'm fascinated by Texas this year, and Charlie Strong's debut will be must-see TV. 

13. Kansas at Duke: Speaking of must-see TV, how about Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins Part II? The Jayhawks' 11-point win in November in Chicago last year was an instant classic. 

14. Iowa State vs. Toledo: #MACtion + Mark Mangino = Magic. Iowa State didn't even have Mangino last year when it threw a 97-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass against Texas. That's as #MACtion as it gets. 

15. Baylor vs. SMU: I have never been on Earth for an SMU win over Baylor. The Bears are 10-0 against their former SWC rivals since 1986. 

16. Iowa State vs. North Dakota State: NDSU beat reigning Big 12 champion K-State in last year's season opener and knocked OU out of the NCAA Tournament in basketball. Pro tip: Stop scheduling these guys. You have nothing to gain. Coach Craig Bohl is gone after leading the Bizzzzzzzon to three consecutive national titles, but NDSU should still open the season as one of the best teams in FCS. 

17. Oklahoma at Tulsa: John Blake is the only Oklahoma coach to lose to Tulsa since 1943. Good luck, Golden Hurricane. 

18. Baylor at Buffalo: The Bears made LB Khalil Mack, the No. 5 pick in last month's NFL Draft, look very mortal in last year's game in Waco. This year's odd Friday night trip to the Northeast shouldn't prove problematic for the Bears. 

19. Oklahoma vs. Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs are still rebuilding under Skip Holtz and went 4-8 last season. The Sooners shouldn't have any issues. 

20. Texas Tech vs. UTEP: Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers missed the five games of the season with a shoulder injury. Here's betting DC Matt Wallerstedt will be picking Kingsbury's brain for tips and tendencies to help defend his former pupil. 

21. Kansas vs. Central Michigan: The Chippewas were the kings of #MACtion three times in four years from 2006-09, but haven't finished higher than fourth in the MAC West in four season under Dan Enos and have been to just one bowl game after playing in bowls in four consecutive seasons under Butch Jones and Brian Kelly. 

22. Oklahoma State vs. UTSA: Roadrunner fever: Catch it! J.W. Walsh played the best game of his career in the Alamodome vs. UTSA last year, completing 24-of-27 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for another. UTSA has only been playing football since 2011 and joined Conference USA a year later. 

23. Kansas State vs. UTEP: UTEP AD Bob Stull graduated from K-State and coached at Missouri ... that's all I got on the Miners

24. West Virginia vs. Towson: Towson is a solid FCS program that lost last year's national title game and won the CAA in 2011 and 2012. When you have QB problems like WVU does, easy wins are hard to come by. The Mountaineers can't mess around in this one. 

25. TCU vs. Samford: The Bulldogs finished in last year's FCS Top 25, but TCU's defense will provide a big margin of error for an offense figuring out how to operate Doug Meacham's spread scheme. 

26. Texas Tech vs. Central Arkansas. I'd like to give Tech some props for playing two teams from my home state. The Bears went 7-5 last year, but even if Scottie Pippen shows up or UCA replaces Lubbock's field with its own, this game will still be ugly. 

27. Baylor vs. Northwestern State: A bunch of Demons show up to a Baptist university trying to grab a win at a brand spankin' new stadium? I think not. 

28. Kansas State vs. Stephen F. Austin. SFA went 3-9 last year, but like OSU's win over Lamar and WVU's win over William & Mary last year, sheer manpower is on K-State's side. These matchups seem unfair to me.

29. Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State. The Missouri Valley member Bears haven't won seven games in a season since 1996. Big 12 member OSU hasn't won fewer than seven games since 2005. 

30. Kansas vs. SE Missouri State: I've seen SEMO play in person once. It was 42-0 at halftime. I do not wish to see the Redhawks again. 

What's your top 10 look like?