The art of nonconference scheduling was on full display throughout the Big 12 on opening weekend.
Oklahoma State’s record-setting 84-0 thrashing of Savannah State on Saturday was so easy that Cowboys coach Mike Gundy began resting his starters in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s 24-7 victory over UTEP was so hard fought that Sooner fans had to wonder why OU coach Bob Stoops ever agreed to play the game in El Paso, Texas.
The games were drastically different, but, in the end, produced the same result for the favored teams. They both head into Week 2 undefeated.
Now the question is: Which game will help more in the long run?
Which team will look back at opening weekend and think that the first game on its schedule helped prepare it for the rest of the season? Will it be the team that faced an overmatched opponent at home and got to play everyone on the roster? Or will it be the team that faced a motivated underdog on the road?
The answer can be different for every team.
“I’m not sure how you find the perfect mix there,” Gundy said.
Finding the perfect opponent for a season-opener is always a difficult challenge Big 12 coaches.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder likes to play lesser opponents at home. Texas coach Mack Brown and Stoops prefer to face Division I teams from outside the BCS and Baylor enjoys facing in-state foes.
The Big 12 went soft for the most part last weekend. Eight of the nine teams in action were heavily favored. The one that wasn’t, Iowa State, convincingly beat Tulsa at home. That led to a 9-0 start for the conference.
Oklahoma was tested more than anyone in its first game. The Sooners wanted to open their season at home. But with TCU joining the Big 12, it had to change its nonconference schedule last offseason. Stoops considered adding a guarantee game at home, but opted to play UTEP in a home-and-home arrangement instead. UTEP hung with Oklahoma the whole way. Could that be an advantage when conference play begins?
“There are some things we can take from it,” Stoops said. “Sometimes in those situations you see what maybe you wouldn’t have seen if you played someone down in a lower division. That’s what we are hoping to do, but it will be a challenge.”
Gundy doesn’t have many rules for opening night, but he doesn’t like traditional powers right off the bat. He wants at least one warm-up game to prepare for the rest of the season.
But it isn’t always easy to find a lower-level opponent that can challenge Oklahoma State’s offense. Gundy said Savannah State was the 17th school the Cowboys contacted about playing in Stillwater. Turned out, its defense wasn’t competitive enough to allow Oklahoma State’s starters to play in the second half.
“Nobody likes to be in a game where it is one-sided like that,” Gundy said. “I hated it as much for the other team that it got out of hand. We went into a protective phase. We played everyone we could. We weren’t going to take a knee. We had to keep running our plays. I think both sides handled it well.”
That allowed backups to gain valuable in-game experience, which could help later on. But the starters weren’t tested at all, which could hurt in the long run.