KANSAS CITY -- You can bet the Southeastern Conference is counting the days until Texas is playing with them rather than against them.
In the first of three matchups between the heaviest of heavyweight conferences and the Big 12 spanning two weeks, the then-No. 11 Longhorns -- soon to be jumping to the SEC -- did something last Saturday that only eight teams had done in 112 tries spanning more than 16 seasons: They beat then-No. 3 Alabama and coach Nick Saban at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Now, the once-in-peril Big 12 could sweep the SEC when No. 15 Kansas State visits old conference rival Missouri on Saturday and newcomer BYU heads to Arkansas. The Wildcats were 4½-point favorites as of Tuesday, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, while the Cougars were 8½-point underdogs as they prepared to face the Razorbacks.
“There’s a lot of energy, a lot of excitement with our fans and our players. I’m excited about it, too,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said this week. “We know that we have a conference to play for, a conference to represent.”
The Big 12 has been ransacked twice by the SEC through the years. The first came with the departure of the Tigers and Texas A&M more than a decade ago, and now with the Longhorns set to join the SEC along with Oklahoma beginning next season.
At one point, after Nebraska left for the Big Ten and No. 18 Colorado for the Pac-12, some thought the Big 12 was on life support.
The league stabilized under Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark, though. BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston have joined this year, and four more are due to arrive next year with Colorado returning alongside No. 12 Utah, Arizona and Arizona State.
Before that, they can make a statement against the SEC, which won four of six meetings between the leagues last year.
One of the losses was Kansas State blowing out Missouri.
“I think it’s going to be a great environment for college football,” Wildcats coach Chris Klieman said of the trip to Columbia, where his team will play for the first time since 2010. “This is a great game, a regional non-conference game and rivalry, and it’s going to be a great test for our guys because we’re going to be going into these types of environments in the Big 12.
“I don’t know how the game is going to go, but it’s going to be a great opportunity for our guys to measure ourselves against a great team on the road in a hostile environment.”
Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz also believes the matchup between Power Five schools is good for college football in general.
“I don’t think there’s anything better than regional rivalries,” Drinkwitz said, pointing out that many players on each team were recruited by the opposing coaching staffs as well. “There’ll be the watercooler conversations. The people this summer flying their flags at the lake and talking trash, and that’s what makes college football so fun: the bragging rights.”
The Tigers have won just twice in six games against Big 12 schools since bolting the league, while Kansas State is just 8-16 against the SEC. The Razorbacks are 13-6 against the Big 12 while the Cougars are 4-7 against the SEC.
“We played against (Arkansas) last year and they put up a lot of points against us and they go the victory,” said Sitake, whose Cougars lost a 52-35 shootout in Provo, Utah. “We’re looking forward to the rematch and going down to Arkansas for this game and getting ready for them. A tough team, tons of talent, just like we saw last year.”
It’s an excellent opportunity for BYU to represent the Big 12 in its first season in the league and an important game for the SEC in avoiding a potential 0-for-3 mark against the Big 12 this season.