The 2018 bowl game dates and times were recently released, which makes this a perfect opportunity to start analyzing the Big 12’s bowl games.
Eight teams made bowl games last season, which meant 80 percent of the league qualified. No other FBS conference matched that number.
Replicating that is going to be difficult, especially since Baylor, Iowa State and West Virginia should all be noticeably improved.
However, it should be a balanced year for the league. With Baker Mayfield gone to the NFL, Oklahoma isn’t unbeatable. After the Sooners, there isn’t a clear No. 2 in the Big 12. Nine teams have legitimate hopes to win at least 7 games.
But conversely, seven teams could very easily miss bowl games. The fight in the middle will be brutal.
The Big 12 has a fairly consistent pecking order for bowl games, from the Sugar Bowl to the Armed Forces Bowl. However, the rest of college football isn’t usually that neat. The projected opponents in these games can change dramatically in the coming months.
With that in mind, here’s our first way-too-early bowl projections for the Big 12’s 2018 season. Remember, events are subject to change dramatically as we get more information.
Sugar Bowl – Oklahoma
Projected opponent: Auburn
When: 8:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 1, 2019
Oklahoma is just a small step shy of the College Football Playoff after replacing the vast majority of its playmakers from 2017. However, the Sooners are still set to win the Big 12 and earn a New Year’s Six trip.
The Big 12 has a tie-in with the Sugar Bowl, which is a place where the Sooners have had major success. In fact, Oklahoma dominated Auburn 35-19 in this game two years ago in Bob Stoops’ final game. A new crop of Sooners will have a chance to do it again.
Alamo Bowl – West Virginia
Projected opponent: USC
When: 9 p.m. on Dec. 28
West Virginia is very close to a New Year’s Six berth, but defensive improvement will be necessary. Otherwise, quarterback Will Grier should be a leading Heisman contender throughout the 2018 season.
The Mountaineers can earn their first trip to the Alamo Bowl by finishing with 10 wins, which looks doable. Getting to play a perennial blue-blood team – even one that’s rebuilding – will be a big opportunity for credibility at West Virginia.
Camping World Bowl – TCU
Projected opponent: Miami
When: 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 28
TCU, West Virginia and Oklahoma will all be very close together at the end of the year. That finish will narrowly push the Horned Frogs down to the Camping World Bowl after playing in San Antonio two of the last three seasons. Questions about the Horned Frogs’ quarterback and offensive line are too big at this point.
However, that will give the Horned Frogs their first bowl trip to Florida since joining the Big 12 in 2012. Not a bad deal.
TCU will also get to play against a retooling Miami squad, coached by Mark Richt. From a talent perspective, it will be an intriguing matchup between two aggressive defenses.
Texas Bowl – Texas
Projected opponent: South Carolina
When: 9 p.m. on Dec. 27
Bowl games usually like to avoid picking the same team in two consecutive seasons. That said, Texas is a big enough draw that the bowl game might think differently. It will be a tight race between TCU, Texas and Iowa State for bowl games, but the Longhorns will be placed in Houston.
The bowl game will do everything in its power to try and pick Texas vs. Texas A&M – which would be a reasonable matchup for this spot. However, the Aggies will refuse once again, so South Carolina will fill in.
It provides an interesting potential game between the Longhorns offensive-minded coach Tom Herman and the defensive wizard who almost became their coach earlier, Will Muschamp.
Liberty Bowl – Oklahoma State
Projected opponent: Florida
When: 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 31
The Cowboys are set to take a step back after losing Mason Rudolph and James Washington to the NFL. When its quarterback situation gets resolved, Oklahoma State could move a little higher. But until then, the Cowboys appear headed to Memphis.
However, Oklahoma State will get a big-time opponent. Florida is fresh off a disastrous year under Jim McElwain. New coach Dan Mullen is good enough to get the Gators back to a bowl game. This should be an intriguing battle of coaching wits.
Cactus Bowl – Iowa State
Projected opponent: Utah
When: 9 p.m. on Dec. 26
Iowa State is ready to become a perennial bowl contender under Matt Campbell. The Cyclones return most of their best players from last season, including running back David Montgomery, quarterback Kyle Kempt and cornerback Brian Peavy.
However, the Big 12 is crowded. If Iowa State finishes with the same record as Oklahoma State, the Cyclones will likely not go back to the Liberty Bowl.
However, a Cactus Bowl game against Utah would be fun, and a great opportunity to pick up a second straight bowl win. It’s a feat the Cyclones have never accomplished in the 120-season history of the program.
Armed Forces Bowl – Kansas State
Projected opponent: Houston
When: 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 22
The Wildcats bring back a decent amount of production from last season, but must replace playmakers at wide receiver and quarterback. Luckily, coach Bill Snyder has built one of the most consistent programs in the nation during his Hall of Fame career.
Plus, Kansas State will get a nice matchup against a Texas opponent in a familiar venue. The Wildcats can play against former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite, who is now the head coach at Houston. It sounds like a perfect opportunity to extend Kansas State’s dominance against the state of Texas.
Just missing out: Baylor, Texas Tech
Note: All kickoff times are listed in ET.