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August 25, 2011

NINE: Ranking the Big 12 games

There are just nine days left until the Texas Tech football team kicks off its 2011 season against Texas State. We continue our countdown to kickoff by ranking the Red Raiders' nine conference games in ascending order of difficulty.

1. at Kansas - The Jayhawks are not only the worst team in the Big 12 -- on this, the media and Las Vegas oddsmakers agree -- but are easily in the conversation for the worst BCS AQ team in the country. KU ranked ninth or worse in the Big 12 in every major statistical category last year save for one, pass defense. Turner Gill's squad may not as terrible in 2011, but Texas Tech should still enter the game as a decisive favorite.

2. vs. Kansas State - Bill Snyder hasn't received enough credit for the turnaround he's engineered since returning to the KSU sideline in 2009. He's guided Kansas State to back-to-back non-losing seasons and third-place finishes in the North Division, and done so with running back Daniel Thomas and a bunch of JAGs. Thomas is gone -- drafted in the second round by the Miami Dolphins -- but Tennessee transfer Bryce Brown is expected to pick up some of that slack this fall.

3. vs. Iowa State - The Cyclones' defense should be one of the more solid outfits in the Big 12 this season with the return of linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein and cornerbacks Leonard Johnson and Jeremy Reeves. The biggest question with Iowa State looks to be at quarterback, with junior college transfer Steele Jantz poised to take the reins.

4. vs. Baylor (Arlington) - Tech's neutral site game against BU looks a little different now that receiver Josh Gordon has transferred to Utah. Gordon, Baylor's second-leading receiver in 2010, has NFL potential and gave the Red Raiders all sorts of trouble last year. Fortunately for BU, the blow of Gordon's departure has been softened somewhat by the news that former five-star prospect Lache Seastrunk is transferring in from Oregon.

5. at Texas - In most seasons, a game against Texas in Austin would be much higher on a list like this. Of course, in most seasons, the Longhorns aren't coming off of a 5-7 campaign. Mack Brown's team is arguably the biggest question mark in the Big 12 this season. The talent is there for UT to compete with anyone in the league, but it's difficult to place those kinds of expectations on a team with uncertainty at quarterback and a completely revamped coaching staff.

6. vs. Oklahoma State - Star receiver Justin Blackmon returns for the Cowboys, as does standout quarterback Brandon Weeden and the team's entire offensive line -- suffice it to say, OSU is going to score some points in 2011. Things are less settled on defense, as the Cowboys return just four starters from a unit that finished last season ranked eighth in the Big 12 in total defense.

7. vs. Texas A&M - The Aggies will be looking to win their third-straight over Tech this season. Within a win, A&M would own its second-longest winning streak over the Red Raiders since 1960 -- A&M won five-straight from 1990-94. If the Aggies do move to the SEC as most expect, this season's matchup will likely be the last regular season meeting between the two schools in the foreseeable future.

8. at Missouri - Columbia, Mo. has been a Bermuda Triangle for Tech. In the Red Raiders' three trips to the Show Me State, they have lost by an average of 29 points. Yikes. Most national pundits have pointed to Missouri's loss of Blaine Gabbert as a reason why the Tigers may struggle, but Gabbert was remarkably average in 2010 -- James Franklin may actually be an upgrade.

9. at Oklahoma - Norman, Okla. hasn't been any kinder to the Red Raiders than Columbia. While Tech does have a win at OU under its belt -- Spike Dykes led Tech to a 22-12 win in 1996 -- its last five trips to Memorial Stadium have all ended in double-digit losses. OU is ranked No. 1 in both major polls and looks primed for a run at the BCS National Championship.

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