Once notorious for its members filling up their non-conference schedules with lightweights, Big 12 teams have stacked their 2018 slates with more than their fair share of tests. In fact, it might be the most loaded compilation of non-conference games for the league from top to bottom in recent memory. Every team except Oklahoma State has at least one Power 5 foe from outside the conference lined up this year -- and the Cowboys are playing arguably the best Group of 5 team around, Boise State.
The optimist might look at the aggressive scheduling as an opportunity for the Big 12's teams to go out and make a statement in the first month of the season. Pessimists will note that taking too many Ls in the non-conference portion of the year can end up dragging everybody down by December.
Here's a ranking of all 10 Big 12 programs' non-conference schedules this season from toughest to easiest.
Sept. 1 vs. Maryland (Landover, Md.)
Sept. 8 vs. Tulsa
Sept. 15 vs. USC
Once again, the Longhorns face a daunting gauntlet to start the season. We all saw what happened when they squared off against Maryland last year, and this year's meeting at FedEx Field is a practical home game for the Terrapins. UT can't settle for just playing USC tough this year, either.
2. West Virginia
Sept. 1 vs. Tennessee (Charlotte, N.C.)
Sept. 8 vs. Youngstown State
Sept. 15 at NC State
The Mountaineers love traveling to a neutral site to start the season. This year, it's Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium to play Tennessee, which looks to be in major rebuild mode. A road trip back to North Carolina in week three to play the Wolfpack will tax Dana Holgorsen's team.
Sept. 1 vs. Southern
Sept. 8 at SMU
Sept. 15 vs. Ohio State (Arlington, Texas)
Is one Ohio State worth a Tennessee and an NC State? That's the operative question in deciding which team has the tougher out-of-league schedule between the Horned Frogs and the Mountaineers. Playing the Buckeyes down the road in at AT&T Stadium puts TCU just a notch below.
Sept. 1 vs. Florida Atlantic
Sept. 8 vs. UCLA
Sept. 22 vs. Army
The Sooners have to open the year hoping their defense made big gains in the offseason. Games one and two find Lane Kiffin's high-flying Owls visiting Norman followed by the new-look Bruins under offensive guru Chip Kelly. That's a tall order for a team that is replacing some key players from their own offense.
5. Iowa State
Sept. 1 vs. South Dakota State
Sept. 8 at Iowa
Sept. 22 vs. Akron
The Cyclones gave everyone a hint last season when they played their in-state rivals to the wire. They will be on the hunt for revenge in Iowa City on Sept. 8.
6. Kansas State
Sept. 1 vs. South Dakota
Sept. 8 vs. Mississippi State
Sept. 15 vs. UTSA
The Wildcats took one on the chin against an SEC opponent last year, losing an ugly contest to Vanderbilt. Maybe they will make good against Mississippi State in the fall.
7. Oklahoma State
Sept. 1 vs. Missouri State
Sept. 8 vs. South Alabama
Sept. 15 vs. Boise State
Mike Gundy's rebuilding job in 2018 won't be made any easier by facing Boise State in non-conference play. The Cowboys do start the year with two breathers.
8. Texas Tech
Sept. 1 vs. Ole Miss (Houston)
Sept. 8 vs. Lamar
Sept. 15 vs. Houston
The Red Raiders no longer coast through the first month of the season. They start the 2018 season with an inter-conference clash versus the Rebels and have a date two weeks later with a feisty Houston team.
Sept. 1 vs. Abilene Christian
Sept. 8 at UTSA
Sept. 15 vs. Duke
For some reason, the Bears are playing an away game against UTSA. The Duke game will offer a telling early measuring stick in head coach Matt Rhule's second season with Baylor.
Sept. 1 vs. Nicholls State
Sept. 8 at Central Michigan
Sept. 15 vs. Rutgers
Get your tickets now for that Sept. 15 clash of the titans between the Jayhawks and Scarlet Knights.
-- 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.