The Big 12 round robin doesn’t leave much room for differentiation between teams’ schedules. There’s no ducking squads from other divisions, and nine conference games only leaves three slots to fill that could boost a team’s strength of schedule.
With two notable exceptions, Big 12 teams are consistently lining up quality non-conference opponents. As such, in many cases, it’s not who’s on the schedule so much where games are being played that determine which squad is facing the more daunting slate.
* - neutral site
Non-Con: Houston*, ULM, Ohio State
Big 12 Home: Kansas State, Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State
Big 12 Road: TCU, Texas Tech, Iowa State, West Virginia
Big 12 Neutral: Texas
You probably don’t see this very often: The consensus favorite to win the conference also has its toughest schedule. You also don’t see a team take on a non-conference combo like Ohio State and Houston, which went a combined 25-2 last season and each won a New Year’s Six bowl, very often. Oklahoma also has road trips to Lubbock and Morgantown, two of the Big 12’s wildest outposts, and a visit to TCU on the docket. If the Sooners make it back to the College Football Playoff, they will have earned it.
2. Kansas State
Non-Con: at Stanford, Florida Atlantic, Missouri State
Big 12 Home: Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas
Big 12 Road: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU
There was a time when the Wildcats would consistently bring up the rear of this list and would be pretty shameless about it, too. Someone managed to convince Bill Snyder his team needed to see the Farm, though, and that sent K-State vaulting up this list in 2016. Not to mention, playing TCU, Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma in hostile territory is about as tough as the league office can make it on a team right now.
Non-Con: Notre Dame, UTEP, at California
Big 12 Home: Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia, TCU
Big 12 Road: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas
Big 12 Neutral: Oklahoma
Just about any other year, non-conference tilts with the Fighting Irish and Golden Bears would be good enough to rank No. 1. Yet, Cal doesn’t look quite so frightening right now. Furthermore, the Longhorns get some of their tougher games at home. With all that said, this schedule is still challenging enough to get Charlie Strong a pink slip if his team doesn’t improve from last year’s 5-7 finish.
4. Iowa State
Non-Con: Northern Iowa, at Iowa, San Jose State
Big 12 Home: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Big 12 Road: TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas
After what might turn out to be more than a mere tune-up against FCS foe Northern Iowa, new head coach Matt Campbell will surely get a hearty Hawkeye welcome on Sept. 10 when he takes his team to Kinnick Stadium for the annual in-state grudge match. The Cyclones do get a relatively favorable home-road split in Big 12 play. Unfortunately, no schedule can really be considered favorable for a program so moribund.
5. Oklahoma State
Non-Con: Southeastern Louisiana, Central Michigan, Pittsburgh
Big 12 Home: Texas, Iowa State, West Virginia, Texas Tech
Big 12 Road: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma
Anybody know the connection between Oklahoma State and Pitt? Not a trick question - it’s a weird matchup. As for the Big 12 slate, road games you don’t want: Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU might be the top three. The Cowboys have them all away from Stillwater.
6. Texas Tech
Non-Con: Stephen F. Austin, at Arizona State, Louisiana Tech
Big 12 Home: Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas
Big 12 Road: Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma State, Iowa State
Big 12 Neutral: Baylor
Texas Tech is another Big 12 team that has opted to up its degree of difficulty lately, as evidenced by this fall’s trip to Sun Devil Stadium. Inside the conference, the good news is the Red Raiders don’t have to hoof it to Morgantown. They also draw the Sooners in Lubbock, a game that Oklahoma shouldn’t take lightly.
Non-Con: South Dakota State, Arkansas, at SMU
Big 12 Home: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State
Big 12 Road: Kansas, West Virginia, Baylor, Texas
TCU has a schedule made for a dark horse. SEC opponent Arkansas will likely take a step back after graduating key cogs on offense from the Razorbacks’ 2015 team. Potential 50-50 games with Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas State all come in Fort Worth. So does the Horned Frogs’ showdown with Oklahoma in a revenge spot for Gary Patterson’s team.
8. West Virginia
Non-Con: Missouri, Youngstown State, BYU*
Big 12 Home: Kansas State, TCU, Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor
Big 12 Road: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State
Missouri entering rebuild mode pushes West Virginia’s schedule farther down this list than one would expect. On the other hand, a neutral site game against BYU is nothing to sneeze at. Landing Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma in Morgantown is a nice break for the Mountaineers; potential toss-ups versus Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech on the road is not.
Non-Con: Rhode Island, Ohio, at Memphis
Big 12 Home: TCU, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Texas,
Big 12 Road: Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas State
Just about any other Power Five team not named Kansas would ride this schedule to bowl eligibility. The non-conference highlight is a visit to Memphis. What are the chances the Tigers hold up with head coach Justin Fuente and star quarterback Paxton Lynch gone? It is worth noting that Kansas has five road games in conference play, so it’s not all cream cheese.
Non-Con: Northwestern State, SMU, at Rice
Big 12 Home: Oklahoma State, Kansas, TCU, Kansas State
Big 12 Road: Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia
Big 12 Neutral: Texas Tech
Art Briles continues to schedule games like he’s positioning his team to make a bowl, not competing for national titles.
— 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.