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Which Big 12 Teams Have The Hardest Non-Conference Schedules?

A ranking of the out-of-conference slates of all the teams in the Big 12.

Houston Chronicle - Time Warner

As spring practices close, predictions and projections for the 2018 college football season abound. Pundits and fans alike continue to debate who will win out in the Big 12, but how are those teams likely to fair against their non-conference foes?

Below is a ranking of the non-conference schedules for 2018 based on the strength of each team’s non-Big 12 lineup. These schedules are ranked according to how well an average, six or seven win team in Division I football would project to perform against that particular set of opponents.

How losable, in other words, would these games be for a college football team in the middle of the FBS?

To get a good gauge on how good these teams might be, we’ve used the rankings from USA Today, Bill Connelly’s projected S&P +, and Athlon’s ranking of all 130 football teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Oklahoma, for example, garners the top spot in this ranking because even though the Sooners will likely be favored in all three of their out-of-conference games, they won’t have an easy go of it. Their opening day opponent, Florida Atlantic, projects as a Top 25 team this year. They also play UCLA, who will likely be a better than average football team.

Army may not be very good this season, but their particular brand of football makes them hard to prepare for, so they can potentially be a tough opponent for any team.

On the other hand, Iowa State – whom many project to be a 6-7 win team in 2018 – only has one non-conference game (a road trip to rival Iowa) that they could realistically lose in Matt Campbell’s third season.

FCS opponents lose to FBS teams about 80 percent of the time, so the Cyclones’ home game against South Dakota state will likely not be a loss.

Notably, though, having games that would be easier to win for an average team doesn’t necessarily mean much for those Big 12 squads projected as below average. Kansas, for example, plays three games that could lead to an undefeated start for a lot of teams in this conference, but it’s entirely possible that the Jayhawks only win one of those games.

1. Oklahoma

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 FAU 11-3  17th 31st 27th
9/8 UCLA 6-7 42nd 39th 37th
9/15 Army 10-3 63rd 92nd 50th

Most people who take a quick glance at the Sooners’ non-conference slate would probably wonder how in the world Lincoln Riley’s team could have the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big 12. There’s merit to that sentiment, but Oklahoma garnered the top pick here because the Sooners play two very losable games against Florida Atlantic and UCLA.

USA Today has FAU ranked just ten spots below the Sooners at No. 17 and Lane Kiffin will be looking to make a statement in his second season with the Owls. The Bruins are also somewhat of a wildcard, as no one knows what to expect from Chip Kelly in his first year back in the Pac-12.

Oklahoma is likely to be favored in both games, but there’s no guarantee they’ll dominate. The last game for the Sooners against Army might be sneaky-tough, as the Black Knights run a triple option that is nothing like what Big 12 defenses are used to seeing.

The bottom line? If you were an average FBS team looking to get to a bowl in 2018, this non-conference lineup would not give you a lot of confidence.

2.West Virginia 

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 Tennessee* 4-8 66th 79th 58th
9/8 Youngstown State 6-5 N/A N/A N/A
9/15 at North Carolina State 9-4 34th 37th 35th

The Mountaineers have the second-toughest out-of-conference schedule here because of the strength of their opponents and the fact that West Virginia only gets one true home game.

There is one contest on this slate that looks to seriously be a potential loss, and that’s the road game against North Carolina State. The Wolfpack return Ryan Finley, who Athlon Sports tabbed as the 13th best quarterback in all of FBS. A road game against a consensus Top 40 is by no means an assured win.

West Virginia will be favored by about touchdown against Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina. After missing out on a bowl last season, many expect slight improvement from the Volunteers under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt, but not much more.

This would probably be a toss-up game for an average FBS team, though, which could very easily pick up one of its two losses at the neutral site.

The showdown against Youngstown State will pique some interest when the Mountaineers take on this FCS team at home, but that will mainly be because of Penguins head coach Bo Pelini. Pelini is a former Big 12 coach, but his current team probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with most Power Five schools.

3. Texas Tech

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 Ole Miss* 6-6 76th 25th 63rd
9/8 Lamar 2-9 N/A N/A N/A
9/15 Houston 7-5 48th 59th 42nd

The main reason why the Red Raiders rank so high on this list is that they play two games that will by no means be easy outs. Ole Miss went 6-6 last year in Matt Luke’s first season, but there’s quality talent in Oxford. The Rebels return about the same amount of overall production as Kliff Kingsbury’s group, so this neutral site game in Houston against an SEC foe won’t be a cake walk.

The same can be said for Texas Tech’s home game against Houston, who look to be improved under new offensive coordinator Kendall Briles. This game was close last season, and there’s no reason to expect it won’t be again in 2018.

Sandwiched in between those two games is a home contest against the Lamar Cardinals, who lost to North Texas from Conference USA 59-14 last year. If Texas Tech drops that one, it might signal serious trouble for the head coach in Lubbock.

4. TCU

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 Southern 7-4 N/A N/A N/A
9/8 at SMU 7-6 87th 74th 91st
9/15 Ohio State* 12-2 5th 1st 3rd

The Horned Frogs have by far the toughest opponent on their non-conference schedule in the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are almost unanimously expect to make the CFP next season. Ohio State would be the toughest team for most college football teams to play and would be very likely be a loss.

Southern and SMU were both above .500 last season, but they would be expected wins for most average FBS teams. Southern is an FCS school that TCU plays at home, and while SMU is technically a road game, the Mustangs are only about a twenty or thirty minute bus ride from Amon G. Carter Stadium, where the Horned Frogs play.

5. Texas 

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 at Maryland 4-8 80th 80th 54th
9/8 Tulsa 2-10 95th 108th 99th
9/15 USC 11-3 25th 15th 23rd

There’s a case to be made that the Longhorns should be higher on this list, mostly because they do not have an FCS team anywhere on their schedule. Texas probably also has the longest road trip of all the Big 12 schools in store, as they play the Terrapins in FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.

For most teams in the top half of Division I football, though, the only likely loss is USC, who is projected as a consensus Top 25 team.

Even so, that is a home game for the Longhorns, something that might actually translate into them being favored when this mid-September contest rolls around.

Tulsa has been a respectable Group of Five program the last few years, but the Golden Hurricane were one of the worst teams in college football last season and 2018 doesn’t look to be much better.

6. Kansas State

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 South Dakota 8-5 N/A N/A N/A
9/8 Mississippi State 9-4 21st 14th  17th
9/15 UTSA 6-5  102nd 104th  103rd

The Wildcats have a non-conference schedule that ranks in the bottom half of the conference because of a home field advantage that they enjoy throughout their first three games.

Additionally, Kansas State will easily be favored, as would most FBS squads, in contests against FCS foe South Dakota and a rebuilding UTSA team. SEC opponent Mississippi State will be a different story, of course, as the Bulldogs currently project as a consensus Top 25 team.

7. Oklahoma State

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 Missouri State 3-8 N/A N/A N/A
9/8 South Alabama 4-8  103rd 109th 118th
9/15 Boise State 11-3  14th 26th 20th

The Pokes have a fairly forgiving non-conference schedule, so we may not know a lot about them until conference play comes. Missouri State and South Alabama would be considered easier wins for most any team in FBS, but the Boise State Broncos are considered a Top 25 team. Oklahoma State does play them at home, however, so that game would probably be a close one for many in the top half of college football.

8. Iowa State

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 South Dakota State 11-3 N/A N/A N/A
9/8 at Iowa 8-5  35th 36th 40th
9/15 Akron 7-7  96th 119th  93rd

South Dakota State has traditionally been one of the better teams in FCS, but there are only a small fraction of teams in college football that you’d expect to struggle against the Jackrabbits. Akron projects to be in the bottom quarter of Division I teams this season, meaning that they will not likely beat many – maybe not any – FBS teams this season.

Iowa is projected 35th by USA Today, most likely because they return a decent amount of starters from a team that went 8-5 last season. This is by far the easiest game to lose on the schedule for Iowa State.

9. Baylor

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 Abilene Christian 2-9 N/A N/A N/A
9/8 at UTSA 6-5  102nd 104th 103rd
9/15 Duke 7-6 55th 40th 56th

Even if the Bears don’t manage to get to bowl eligibility, they will likely have a winning record in out-of-conference play. FCS Abilene Christian won only two games last season, so they would probably have a tough time against most any FBS school.

UTSA beat the Bears last season, but 2018 will likely be a rebuilding year for them as they replace a lot of key pieces. Duke projects as a Top 40 type of team, but the Bears do play them at home. That would give most any average team a good shot at the Blue Devils.

10. Kansas

DATE OPPONENT 2017 RECORD USA TODAY S&P+ ATHLON
9/1 Nicholls State 8-4 N/A N/A N/A
9/8 at Central Michigan 8-5  107th 116th 116th
9/15 Rutgers 4-8  93rd 84th 85th

If you were perennially a fringe bowl team, it would be hard to find an easier road to an undefeated non-conference record than Kansas’s first three games. The toughest opponent that the Jayhawks face – the Rutgers Scarlett Knights – are a team that most people don’t think will qualify for a bowl in 2018. The game, additionally, is at home.

Of course, David Beaty’s team may only grab one or two wins during that stretch. Most average FBS teams would not be that challenged by this non-conference schedule, though, which features an FCS team and a Central Michigan squad losing over half its starters from last season.

 

*Denotes neutral site game.

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