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Ranking the Big 12’s Toughest Non-Conference College Football Schedules in 2017

Malik Jefferson

Malik Jefferson

Optimists might look at the Big 12 teams’ three non-conference games and point out that it means one fewer chance for the programs to pulverize a cupcake directional school. The cynics see fewer opportunities for marquee matchups.

Surprisingly, 2017 is looking like a season in which Big 12 squads decided to fill out their out-of-conference slates with quality opponents. Nine of 10 teams have dates with Power Five teams on the docket, including a few legitimate head-turners. Even Baylor is getting in on the act this year.

Here’s a ranking of all 10 Big 12 programs’ non-conference schedules this season from toughest to easiest.

1. Texas

Sept. 2 vs. Maryland

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas

Sept. 9 vs. San Jose State

Sept. 16 at USC

The schedule won’t do Tom Herman any favors in his first year as the head Longhorn. The headliner is clearly a trip to USC in the third week of the year, but Texas can’t sleep on that opener against an improving Maryland program.

2. Oklahoma

Sept. 2 vs. UTEP

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oklahoma

Sept. 9 at Ohio State

Sept. 16 vs. Tulane

You can count on the Sooners for at least one main event every year outside of Big 12 play. This season it’s a rematch on Sept. 9 with Ohio State, which pounded OU in Norman last season. On the other hand, UTEP and Tulane shouldn’t pose much of a threat.

3. Oklahoma State

Sept. 2 vs. Tulsa

College Football Top 25: Oklahoma State

Sept. 9 at South Alabama

Sept. 16 at Pittsburgh

OSU’s back-to-back road games stick out. The Cowboys will probably handle South Alabama without much trouble, but they will likely be an underdog a week later in the Steel City. The Golden Hurricane tend to play above their heads against the in-state big boys, too.

4. TCU

Sept. 2 vs. Jackson State

College Football Top 25 Rankings: TCU

Sept. 9 at Arkansas

Sept. 16 at SMU

Playing the Razorbacks in Fayetteville was tough enough before the state government decided it would be cool to have some Hog fans packing heat in the stands. Gary Patterson’s team has a trap game at SMU a week after Arkansas.

5. West Virginia

Sept. 2 vs. Virginia Tech (Landover, MD)

College Football Top 25 Rankings: WVU

Sept. 9 East Carolina

Sept. 16 Delaware State

The Mountaineers get regional rival Virginia Tech at FedEx Field to open the year. Given the Hokies’ personnel losses from 2016, that’s a nice break for WVU. ECU loves to slay giants and will have a shot at an upset in a letdown spot the following week in Morgantown.

6. Iowa State

Sept. 2 vs. Northern Iowa

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Sept. 9 vs. Iowa

Sept. 16 at Akron

Not losing in the opening game to an FCS team would constitute a step in the right direction for second-year head coach Matt Campbell. So would knocking off the Cyclones’ in-state rivals in week two. ISU will have its hands full in the third game of the year when it visits an experienced outfit in Akron.

7. Baylor

Sept. 2 vs. Liberty

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Sept. 9 vs. UTSA

Sept. 16 at Duke

Maybe it was fated that Baylor’s traditionally callow stance toward non-conference games would lift in what turned out to be the first year of the Matt Rhule era. Whatever the case may be, prepare for hell to freeze over on Sept. 16 when the Bears take the field against Duke in Durham.

8. Kansas State

Sept. 2 vs. Central Arkansas

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Sept. 9 vs. Charlotte

Sept. 16 at Vanderbilt

The Wildcats gear up for a potential dark horse run in the Big 12 this year with two lightweights in Manhattan. The Sept. 16 date between KSU and the Commodores should be fun for the old-school types.

9. Texas Tech

Sept. 2 vs. Eastern Washington

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Sept. 16 vs. Arizona State

Sept. 23 at Houston

Tech is another program that has dedicated itself to playing tougher non-conference games in recent years. The Red Raiders will have a chance for some revenge when ASU comes to town in their second game of the year. In light of how Houston has played against power conference teams in the last few seasons, Tech might be an underdog when it takes on the Cougars on Sept. 23.

10. Kansas

Sept. 2 vs. Southeast Missouri

College Football Rankings: Kansas

Sept. 9 vs. Central Michigan

Sept. 16 at Ohio

The Jayhawks stay loading up on junk. The schedule includes a visit from the Southeast Missouri Redhawks, an FCS team that went 3-8 a year ago. KU needs the Ws, but tickets for these games won’t be tough to find around Lawrence.

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.