There’s approximately eight weeks to go between this article and the start of the 2017 college football season and on the eve of conference media days within the next few weeks, the talk of the work put in spring and summer will soon turn to producing results on the field in the fall.
For the FBS schools in the Lone Star State, several teams will be looking to turning over a new leaf after a disappointing 2016 season. The non-conference slate provides teams a chance to see where they stand and what they need to work on. Not all schedules are created equal, but whether it’s Texas, Texas A&M or Texas State, each team has one key game in the non-conference that could provide a direction as to where their seasons might go.
Here’s a look at each Texas FBS school’s most important non-conference game.
(Editor’s note: The teams are listed in alphabetical order and not ranked by expected finish for the upcoming season.)
Baylor- at Duke, September 16
We start in Waco where the Baylor Bears are actually playing a non-conference game against a Power 5 school for the first time since 2009 against Wake Forest. In other words, it’s been a while.
The Bears travel to Durham to take on a Blue Devils squad that should be better after an injury-filled 2016 season. With everything that’s gone on at Baylor over the last year-plus, no one really knows for sure what to expect from the Bears under new head coach Matt Rhule. This game will be a good indicator as to where the team is headed in 2017.
Houston- vs. Texas Tech, September 23
On this list, I’m trying not to mention the same game for both teams twice. (Check below for UTSA’s game and Texas Tech). So for Houston, I’ll put the home game against Texas Tech on September 23 as the one to watch. The Cougars enter 2017 with a new head coach in Major Applewhite and installing a few new pieces in the offense as well.
Despite the big win against Oklahoma, 2016 still feels like a what-could-have-been type year for the Cougars. The Cougars would likely be favored in their first three games but this game against Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders could be a good indicator of how good UH will be in the first year under Applewhite.
North Texas- at SMU, September 9
North Texas was a pleasant surprise at 5-7 and receiving an invite to a bowl game under first year head coach Seth Littrell. Entering Year 2, the Mean Green are looking to take the next step and get to at least six wins and not rely solely on the APR scores.
In last year’s game against SMU, the Mean Green actually held the led against the Mustangs before letting the game get away in the fourth quarter. It’s the first road game of the year for UNT and if they want to get back to bowl eligibility in 2017, this is a game that they’ll definitely have to have.
Rice- vs. Army, October 7
The Rice Owls will look to turn their fortunes around in 2017 after a disappointing 3-9 season. They’ll have a couple of winnable conference games in UTEP and FIU but the home game against Army at the midway point of the year could help turn the season around or put the Owls in a difficult spot.
It’s been a struggle for the Owls after two sub-.500 seasons and head coach David Bailiff could look to this game against the Black Knights that could go a long way in turning their fortunes around.
SMU- at TCU, September 16
5-7 isn’t the best mark, but that record was a real sign of progress for the Mustangs under Chad Morris. With games against Stephen F. Austin and North Texas to start off the year, SMU should be 2-0 entering their rivalry game against TCU in the Battle for the Iron Skillet. The closest that SMU has come to beating their Fort Worth counterparts in recent years was an eight-point loss to 2012.
The Mustangs will be underdogs but this will be a good test to see how much better they’ve gotten over last season.
TCU- at Arkansas, September 9
Simply put, this is a revenge game for the Horned Frogs. TCU just could never quite out of the starting gate at times last year and losing on their home field to Arkansas has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Frogs.
TCU enters 2017 with some high expectations and this will be the first road test for this team in a hostile environment. Can Kenny Hill and a fully healthy Horned Frogs team get even with the Hogs in Fayetteville this season?
Texas- at USC, September 16
Simply put, this is one of the marquee games of the nonconference season across college football. A rematch of one of the all-time great national championship games at the Coliseum with two teams having to deal with extremely high expectations. For Tom Herman and the Longhorns, this is the game everyone has circled as to the best indication as to how good Texas can be in 2017.
Will Herman have the Longhorns back as contenders in Year 1 or will the process take a longer time than that? We’ll have a better answer after the September 16 showdown in Los Angeles.
Texas A&M- at UCLA- September 3
Athletic director Scott Woowdard has made it very clear for Kevin Sumlin. This is a must-win season if he wants to stick around in College Station after the final game of the year. The Aggies get a good test right off the bat as they head west to take on the UCLA Bruins.
Quarterback Josh Rosen is considered one of the top quarterbacks in the country and is looking to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2016 season. The Aggies certainly have the talent to do big things this year and they’ll look to start strong again and a road win in the Rose Bowl would certainly help them here.
Texas State- vs. UTSA, September 23
Everett Withers has a tough job in San Marcos as he tries to rebuild the Bobcats. They’ll have plenty of talent at the receiver position coming back and Mississippi State transfer quarterback Damian Williams should be an instant impact player.
With road games against Colorado and Wyoming along with a home game against FCS Houston Baptist, the game against UTSA could serve as a barometer as to what kind of progress the team has made entering Sun Belt play.
Texas Tech- vs. Arizona State, September 16
Simply put, these are interesting times in Lubbock. Kliff Kingsbury is squarely on the hot seat as the Red Raiders start life without Patrick Mahomes. After a home game against Eastern Washington, they will face off against an Arizona State team that finds themselves in a similar position. One thing is for certain in this game: There will be lots and lots of points.
Tech will most likely to continue to have to outscore teams to win and against a team like ASU, the Red Raiders will have to find a way to pull out these close matchups; something they weren’t able to do with much success last year.
UTEP- at New Mexico State, September 23
Given the expectations for last year’s UTEP team, 2016 proved to be a bit disappointing for the Miners. As Sean Kugler hits the reset button, the beginning part of the schedule provides some major challenges that include a season opener at Oklahoma, a C-USA home game against Rice, and a primetime game against Arizona. That said, it’s the Battle of I-10 that could provide the biggest key.
If UTEP gets out of those first three games 1-2, the battle with NMSU will be a major pivot point. A win would put them back at .500 prior to their trip East to play Army. Meanwhile, a loss that puts them at 1-3 would be trouble for the Miners and would definitely turn up the heat on Kugler.
UTSA- vs. Houston, September 2
For a program that is still in its early stages, 2016 was a landmark year for UTSA as they made it to their first bowl game. Now under second year head coach Frank Wilson, the Roadrunners have a tough test right off the bat against the Houston Cougars.
Expectations around the program have been raised but this year should have a different feeling thanks to a larger target. Can UTSA manage those expectations and use the first game of the year as a spring board to even bigger things in 2017? We’ll find out pretty early on.
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