In a year like this, ranking Big 12 teams’ schedules by difficulty involves major hairsplitting.
The round-robin schedule means no one misses an opponent in the conference slate, per usual. This season, though, the league lacks a clear preseason favorite, so figuring out which team is a tough opponent and which is not takes even more projection than usual.
Home-road splits and non-conference matchups weighed heavily as tiebreakers in putting together this list of Big 12 teams’ schedules in order of most to least difficult.
Non-Con: Maryland (in Landover, Md,), Tulsa, USC
Big 12 Home: Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, West Virginia
Big 12 Road: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas
Big 12 Neutral: Oklahoma (in Dallas)
Outside the league, in addition to a home date with the Trojans, Texas has to play a de facto road game versus Maryland. Going to Kansas State, which is usually a snakepit for the Longhorns, right before the rivalry game with Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl is a particularly unfortunate break for UT.
2. Oklahoma State
Non-Con: Missouri State, South Alabama, Boise State
Big 12 Home: Texas Tech, Texas, West Virginia Mountaineers, Iowa State
Big 12 Road: TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Kansas
The Cowboys draw probably the best Group of 5 team in the country this year in week three. Playing all three non-conference contests in Stillwater is a plus. What’s not: The annual Bedlam rivalry game with the Sooners is one of five road trips inside the league.
Non-Con: Southern, at SMU, Ohio State (in Arlington, Texas)
Big 12 Home: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, Kansas, Texas, Baylor
The Horned Frogs likely have the toughest non-conference game of any Big 12 program in 2018 when they face Ohio State at AT&T Stadium in the third week of the year. They also have to play at Texas a week later. Fortunately for Gary Patterson’s team, the Sooners are coming to Fort Worth.
4. Kansas State
Non-Con: South Dakota, Mississippi State, UTSA
Big 12 Home: Texas, Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State
Big 12 Road: Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State
The Wildcats host Mississippi State in week two in a game that will likely serve as a national referendum on the strength of the Big 12. West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU and Iowa Sate. on the road? Ouch.
5. West Virginia
Non-Con: Tennessee (in Charlotte, N.C.), Youngstown State, at NC State
Big 12 Home: Kansas, Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor, Kansas State
Big 12 Road: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Texas
The Mountaineers’ soft-ish run of Big 12 road games this year offsets a non-conference slate that includes two dates with middling Power 5 foes. If WVU wants to challenge for a conference title, it needs to capitalize on this schedule.
Non-Con: Florida Atlantic, UCLA, Army
Big 12 Home: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Kansas
Big 12 Road: Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU, West Virginia
Big 12 Neutral: Texas (in Dallas)
The season opener with Lane Kiffin and FAU is interesting. And speaking of interesting coaching situations, OU hosts UCLA in Chip Kelly’s first high-profile game as the Bruins’ head man. The season finale on Black Friday in Morgantown looms large for the Sooners if they hope to win a fourth consecutive Big 12 championship.
7. Iowa State
Non-Con: South Dakota State, at Iowa, Akron
Big 12 Home: Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas State
Big 12 Road: Texas, Kansas, TCU, Oklahoma State
The Cyclones will follow up on last season’s surprising 8-5 campaign with a somewhat forgiving conference schedule that includes home games with some of the Big 12’s top contenders, including OU. Things will probably get weird in the in-state battle with the Hawkeyes; they usually do.
Non-Con: Nicholls State, at Central Michigan, Rutgers
Big 12 Home: Texas, Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma State
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma
Why are the Jayhawks playing at Central Michigan? That’s not how Power 5 teams typically operate.
If KU stays true to recent form, it won’t matter how tough the team’s schedule is.
9. Texas Tech
Non-Con: Ole Miss (in Houston), Lamar, Houston
Big 12 Home: Texas, Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU
Big 12 Neutral: Baylor (in Arlington, Texas)
A few years ago, the game against the Rebels in the opening week sounded like a stiffer test than it will turn out to be. Overall, this slate sets up well for Kliff Kingsbury to live to fight another year in Lubbock.
Non-Con: Abilene Christian, at UTSA, Duke
Big 12 Home: Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Kansas, TCU
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, Iowa State
Big 12 Neutral: Texas Tech (in Arlington, Texas)
Despite winning only one game in 2017, the Bears played hard for first-year head coach Matt Rhule. Baylor is climbing out of a deep hole, but this schedule may put a bowl bid in striking range.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.