CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 01: Jordan Lunch #6 of the Northern Illinois Huskies rolls out to look for a receiver against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Soldier Field on September 1, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
This season we're going to be doing a weekly series where we take a look at this season's "swing game" opponents. These are the teams we play where the result could help swing the direction of the season in one direction or another. As of right now, that means the teams on this list, but that could certainly change as the year goes on.
This is not to say that it will be a coin flip scenario when we play these teams, but there are some games that should be more competitive than others. Each week we'll be looking at these teams, how they've played, and keep up with any new developments.TCU (September 15)
Last week: The Horned Frogs start a week later than the rest of the conference, so we have yet to see just what they have this year. TCU saw a tumultuous offseason full of scandal and suspensions, so early struggles aren't out of the question.
This week: TCU hosts their season opener against Grambling State Saturday, which will be their lone test before hosting the Jayhawks. Grambling State is an FCS opponent, so it's unlikely we'll learn much of anything prior to our conference opener against the Frogs. Aside from four defensive suspensions, TCU looks to be starting the year at full strength coming off a successful, 11-2 campaign in 2011.
Northern Illinois (September 22)
Last week: Northern Illinois looks like a tougher opponent than initially expected after scaring Iowa in an 18-17 loss in Dekalb. Iowa didn't find the end zone until the 4th quarter in what surprisingly turned out to be a defensive struggle. NIU was held to just 201 total yards, but held Iowa to 268. The Hawkeyes capped off a come-from-behind victory with a game-winning touchdown with just 2:15 remaining.
Notes: Admittedly, I don't know a lot about Iowa, but I don't think this strong home performance against a major conference opponent bodes well for us. New NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch struggled in the passing game, but ran the ball 18 times for 119 yards, including a 73 yard TD run, so we'll have an athletic quarterback on our hands when we play. The Huskies lost the majority of their offense from last year, which showed in their performance, but the defense may prove to be a test for a Jayhawk offense that struggled at times against a weaker opponent in Week 1.
This week: NIU gets another home game Saturday, this one against much easier competition in Tennessee-Martin from the FCS.
Kansas State (October 6)
Last week: K-State held just a 16-9 lead over Terry Allen's Missouri State squad before reeling off 35 straight in the fourth. Early struggles are not unusual for Bill Snyder's teams, which often include quite a few juco transfers still acclimating to major college football.
Notes: Snyder didn't exactly go all out in this one, as Collin Klein didn't take off on his first designed run until late in the 2nd quarter. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats were committed to the run, but did pass 28 times. K-State ended up with a lopsided win without any major injuries, so it's safe to call the game a success, and there's no reason to think this won't be a very tough opponent for Kansas.
This week: K-State gets their toughest non-conference test with a home game vs Miami. This one came down to a goal line stand last year in Florida, and should provide more of an indication of what the Wildcats will do this season.
Baylor (November 3)
Last week: Those who thought Baylor might struggle offensively this year (myself included) got a reality check on Sunday as Baylor pounded SMU 59-24. The Bears put up 613 yards, 340 of which came on the arm of RG3's replacement, Nick Florence.
Notes: I didn't watch the game, and the box score makes it kind of hard to guess at the storyline here. SMU didn't find the end zone until late in the 3rd quarter, but managed to rack up 507 yards. Though the score was lopsided, that would tend to suggest that the Baylor defense that gave up 620 yards and 56 points in their bowl game last year may not have improved much. It doesn't look like Baylor took a big step back offensively, but they do look like a team that will lend themselves to a lot of shootouts in the Big 12.
This week: Baylor will rest this week after playing a Sunday afternoon game in their opener.
Texas Tech (November 10)
Last week: Tech rolled FCS opponent Northwestern State 44-6 in their opener Saturday. The Raiders actually ran the ball as many times as they threw in this one, probably because Northwestern State was all but out of it by halftime.
Notes: As far as defense is concerned, Tech fans were approaching this game in much the same way we were. Sure, it's a weak opponent, but _please_ just show us something. The Tech defense gave up 259 rushing yards per contest last year, and was the biggest reason for the 5 game skid that ended their season. That area of the team was much improved Saturday, as the Red Raiders gave up just 13 (!) rushing yards all night, and held NW State to just 86 yards overall. This improvement bears watching as the season goes on, since a solid defense was probably the only thing standing between Tech and a very respectable season in 2011.
This week: Tech hosts Texas State, one of the newest members of the FBS, in Lubbock this week.
Iowa State (November 17)
Last week: When will people start doubting this team? Iowa State fell to 16-7 1st quarter deficit, only to more than make up for it with a 17-0 advantage in the 2nd. The Cyclones did what they needed to do in true Paul Rhoads fashion and took down Tulsa 38-23.
Notes: Iowa State held a pretty good Tulsa offense to 358 yards and 23 points (which these days is pretty respectable), and forced three turnovers. QB Steele Jantz, who lost his starting job last year, played the whole game and threw for 280 yards in the victory.
This week: Iowa State has one of the tougher games among Big 12 teams this week as they play a road game against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa State has a real shot at another 2-0 start to their season.