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2018 Spring Preview

Which Big 12 Teams Will Have The Toughest Opponents In 2018?

Phil Steele recently released his Toughest Opponent Records for 2018. What do they tell us about the strength of Big 12 schedules next season?

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Which Big 12 Teams Will Have The Toughest Opponents In 2018?

As we head deeper into the football offseason, no doubt debates will abound as to which schools have the toughest schedules going into next season. One way to get some perspective on this question is to look at how good next season’s foes were last year.

To that end, Phil Steele has released a ranking of the toughest opponent records for 2018. This ranking assesses the schedule of all 130 teams in Football Bowl Subdivision, based on how the opponents in a team’s 2018 schedule fared in 2017.

So, how tough are the schedules for teams in the Big 12 heading into next year? Below, we’ve reproduced Steele’s rankings to include only teams from the Big 12. Keep in mind that this list includes all the conference foes each team will face as well as the non-conference opponents they’ll take on in 2018.

TEAM CONF RANK NAT RANK OPP REC RANKED OPP OPP > .500
Kansas 1st 20th 90-65 3 9
Iowa State 2nd 32nd 89-69 3 8
K-State 3rd* 36th 86-68 4 9
TCU 3rd* 36th 86-68 3 9
Baylor 5th 41st 85-68 3 9
Oklahoma 6th 47th 86-70 2 8
West Virginia 7th 53rd 83-70 4 8
Texas Tech 8th 70th 80-72 3 8
Texas 9th 75th 81-74 4 7
Oklahoma State 10th 82nd 79-75 3 7

With seven teams in the top half of this ranking nationally, there’s an implication from this list that the Big 12 will face tougher opponents than teams in say the Pac 12, which has a lot of teams ranked lower. The average schedule ranking for a Big 12 team is 49.2, implying that there aren’t going to be a lot of cake walks in the conference.

A lot of that has to do with the parity in the conference. Because of the round robin scheduling format, everyone, except Baylor and Kansas, played seven games against conference opponents that qualified for bowl games last season. One reason the Bears and Jayhawks are so high on this ranking is because they stayed home during bowl season.  Eight of the Big 12 teams they will face in 2018 were conference bowl qualifiers in 2017.

It should also be mentioned that Baylor will really only face one team, the Abilene Christian Wildcats, who didn’t win enough games to get to the postseason play last year. Non-conference opponent UTSA went 6-5 to qualify. However, the Roadrunners were not selected to play in a bowl game.

Another thing to note here is that this method ignores the differences in the type of opponent different teams face. Even though Texas has the second easiest schedule in this ranking, for example, the Longhorns are one of only two schools in the Big 12 that do not play a school from the FCS next season (the other is Oklahoma).

While the Cyclones might have a hard time making the case that any one of their non-conference opponents will present a bigger challenge than a team like USC or Ohio State, all of Iowa State’s foes outside the Big 12 made the post-season. Akron and Iowa both qualified for bowls and South Dakota State doesn’t play in a bowl game because they’re in the FCS. The Jackrabbits were no slouch last year, either – they made it all the way to the FCS Playoff Semifinals.

Of course, Oklahoma could make a similar case for the strength of their schedule. The Sooners won’t take on any ranked teams outside of league play, but all three of their non-conference foes made bowl games in 2017. Two of them, Florida Atlantic and Army, won at least ten games.

Other teams in the Big 12 have an opponent on the schedule that is particularly formidable according to these rankings. Kansas State, TCU, West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma State all play an opponent in the non-conference that was ranked at the end of last season.

Also missing from this ranking, is the way the number of home versus away games affects the toughness of a team’s schedule. Since Texas Tech plays two neutral site games, for example, the Red Raiders will only have to play four true road games in 2018.

That doesn’t mean Texas Tech has it easy. They face two very strong teams in Ole Miss and Houston in their non-conference schedule, something that will give the Red Raiders their challenges to overcome.

Whatever flaws there might be in this method of calculating schedule strength, however, it certainly sheds light on how much work teams in this conference have ahead of them. Especially with some solid non-conference teams on the slate, we should find out a lot about the Big 12 come September.

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