When putting together Athlon Sports' college football magazine and preseason Top 25 each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.
And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.
So who has the toughest schedule in the Big 12 this fall? Who has the easiest path?
The toughest non-conference game in the Big 12 this season is Texas' Week 1 trip to face Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Add a rapidly improving Cal team and the Longhorns get the toughest non-conference slate of any team. The road schedule also includes Baylor, TCU and West Virginia (and Iowa State) as well as Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. The saving grace for Charlie Strong is that swing games with Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech come at home.
The Mountaineers boast the toughest road schedule in the Big 12 of any team in the league. West Virginia has to face the top three (Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma) on the road as well as always-tough Kansas State. It gets just four Big 12 home games and also has to play a quality Big Ten team in Maryland and a tricky mid-major in Georgia Southern.
Memphis at home and Rutgers on the road are tough non-conference games for a first-year regime. Add to that road trips to TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas and there just aren’t many winnable games on this schedule. Iowa State on the road might be KU’s best shot at a Big 12 win. The home slate offers Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas State. This should be good to ticket sales, but not for wins.
One of the toughest non-conference games in the Big 12 this fall is Oklahoma’s trip to Tennessee. The Sooners' league road slate is a mixed bag. The TCU and West Virginia games will come at home but huge showdowns with Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas (neutral) will come away from Norman.
For most teams, a non-conference slate of Northern Iowa, Iowa and Toledo isn’t overly daunting. For Iowa State, it could be concerning. Mix in five road games in the Big 12 to some serious outposts (Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech) and the only chances for conference wins this fall likely come at home (Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU).
Getting TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State at home is huge but the road games are brutal for Tech. Visiting Austin, Norman, Morgantown and Arkansas is downright nasty. Sam Houston State and UTEP are guaranteed wins (along with Kansas and Iowa State) and playing Baylor in Arlington offers some semblance of comfort.
A road trip to Minnesota on opening weekend could be tricky, but the Gophers aren’t as good as last year’s team that got smoked in Fort Worth. Home games with Baylor, West Virginia and Texas are huge for the Frogs while five road games in the Big 12 create come upset chances. Trips to both Oklahoma schools, Manhattan, Kan., and Lubbock, Texas, could all be tricky. This isn’t one of the tougher slates but it’s not as easy as the three other contenders.
The non-conference schedule should provide three wins for Bill Snyder’s rebuilt Wildcats. Getting Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma and West Virginia at home makes pulling an upset very likely at some point during the year. Otherwise, the road schedule’s worst two trips come against a pair of teams (Texas, Oklahoma State) that went 6-6 in the regular season in 2014.
The Bears should once again be concerned about a meaningless non-conference schedule — unless Chad Morris works some miracle at SMU. Road trips to TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State should be points of focus but the rest of the key games (Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia) come at home while Texas Tech happens in JerryWorld.
The easiest road slate in the Big 12 includes Iowa State, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Texas — all teams picked in the bottom half of the Big 12. The home schedule offers some huge chances at upsets with TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Kansas coming to Stillwater. And the three non-conference games are all walks in the park.