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2018 Season

Ranking the Big 12’s 2018 Non-Conference Schedules

Who has the toughest out-of-conference slate? Let’s find out. And no, Kansas doesn’t get a handicap.



Getty Images - Jeff Gross

Another season of Big 12 football is soon upon us, and it all starts with the out of conference games. When teams are fighting for a higher ranking or simply fighting to make a bowl game, the media often compares teams out of conference schedules to see who deserves that spot more. But then again, a difficult non-con could keep a team from bowl eligibility.

So who’s going to have the roughest go of things in the Big 12? Here’s how we rank the non-conference schedules.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

SEP 1 – Nicholls State
SEP 8 – at Central Michigan
SEP 15 – Rutgers

Kansas has the weakest non-conference schedule in the conference, and here’s why. They open with a FCS school out of the Southland Conference. It should be a cupcake to open the season. Well, a cupcake for most Big 12 schools.

Nicholls, located in Louisiana, is a solid FCS school. They went 8-4 last year and 7-2 in the conference, but their last FBS win was in 2013. Hopefully, Kansas keeps that streak alive, but if they fail to do so, it would be a very embarrassing start to what’s sure to be a embarrassing season.

The next week they travel to Mount Pleasant, MI, to take on the Chippewas of Central Michigan. These two teams have met three times before, and Kansas won the first two meetings. However, last year, Central Michigan blew out the Jayhawks in Lawrence. Central Michigan is not elite competition; again, for most schools.

If we took into account the Jayhawks skill level, this schedule would probably rank higher, but we aren’t.  We’re ranking the non-con as all things being equal.

The battle of the basement dwellers. Kansas finishes the non-conference slate with a home showdown with Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights play in the Big Ten, and are the Jayhawks only Power Five non-conference opponent. These two teams met in 2015, which resulted in a Rutgers 27-14 win. Rutgers is on the rise, and probably won’t have a 78-0 Michigan repeat, but they are still in the cellar of the Big 10.

All in all, Kansas does not play an above average team in their out of conference schedule and that’s a recipe for a weak non-conference schedule.

9. Baylor Bears

SEP 1 – Abilene Christian
SEP 8 – at UTSA
SEP 15 – Duke

Baylor has a fairly easy out-of-conference schedule as well; only slightly harder than the Jayhawk’s. It opens with an FCS opponent in Abilene Christian. The Wildcats play in the Southland Conference and they struggled mightily last season with a 2-9 record. This isn’t just an FCS school, it’s a struggling FCS school. Baylor should have no problem here. Should being the operative word as they don’t want repeat of what happened last season against Liberty.

The following week, the Bears travel to San Antonio to take on the UTSA Roadrunners from Conference USA. These two teams met last year for the first time, and it was a UTSA 17-10 win in Waco. This year should be different as the Roadrunners are going to struggle against a much-improved Baylor team. The Bears should take care of business, but again, it doesn’t make for a elite non-con schedule.

The final game of the slate is a home matchup with the Duke Blue Devils from the ACC. Duke is an average FBS team, and ranks somewhere in the 60-70 range. These teams have played each other twice. Both of which resulted in Blue Devil wins. Duke won in 1958 and again in 2017. Both teams are on the up and it should be a very good game.

The Duke game saves the schedule a little bit, but still, no top 60 opponents plus a FCS school, and you have a pretty easy schedule.

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys

AUG 30 – Missouri State
SEP 8 – South Alabama
SEP 15 – Boise State

The Oklahoma State Cowboys have an interesting non-conference schedule. It all starts with the Missouri State Bears traveling to Stillwater. The Bears were 3-8 last season, but did score 42 points against Missouri in last year’s week one. The only problem was that they gave up 73. This game and should not be a problem for the Pokes.

In week two, the Cowboys play the South Alabama Jaguars from the Sun Belt conference. For reasons no one can quite understand, Oklahoma State played South Alabama last season at their place. Home field advantage was no help to the Jaguars though, as the Cowboys ended up with a 44-7 victory. The Jaguars don’t look like anything special this season, and it is again a home game for OSU.

The Cowboys have two relatively weak games to open the season. That all changes in week three when the Boise State Broncos come to Stillwater. Boise State holds the second-best win percentage in all of college football at 0.727. The Cowboys and Broncos have never met before, but this is sure to be a thriller as Boise State should be a top 25 team.

The Cowboy’s first two games could be the easiest conference wide, but the Boise state game saves the schedule a bit.

7. Kansas State Wildcats

SEP 1 – South Dakota
SEP 8 – Mississippi State

The Wildcats follow a theme we saw in the first three teams: One FCS opponent, one Group of Five opponent, and one Power Five opponent — we’re counting Boise State as a Power Five-level opponent.

Kansas State opens with a FCS opponent in South Dakota. The Coyotes are in the Missouri Valley Conference. They went 8-5 last year, and made the second round of the FCS playoffs. They had a three-game stretch when they beat the 16th, 10th and third-ranked teams in the FCS in a row. This team is talented, but they’re still an FCS school and Kansas State should beat them.

K-state has a big turn around for week two when the Mississippi State Bulldogs from the SEC come into Manhattan. A top 15 team in the country makes this schedule a lot harder. These teams played twice back in the seventies when surprisingly, Bill Snyder was not the K-state head coach. They split that home and home series.

The non-conference schedule finishes off with a home showdown with UTSA. The Roadrunners are a three to four-win team this year, and a solid Kansas State team should take care of business. These two teams met in 2015 and Kansas State won 30-3.

The Wildcats play two very easy games and a very hard one, Mississippi State is a real challenge and a possible loss at home, UTSA and South Dakota are what pundits would call cupcakes.

6. Iowa State Cyclones

SEP 1 – South Dakota State
SEP 8 – at Iowa
SEP 22 – Akron

Iowa State continues the FCS opponent, a Group of Five opponent and a Power Five non-conference scheduling formula we’ve seen above.

It all starts with South Dakota State in Ames. The Jackrabbits are a legit team. They made the FCS semifinals last year and went 11-3. They might be able to catch Iowa State napping as the Cyclones have a big game in week two, and land a haymaker or two. However, Iowa State should be fine as we expect coach Campbell to come out with a focused team.

Week two is a big one. The battle for the cy-hawk trophy. Iowa leads the all time series 43-22 and have won the last three meetings. The Hawkeyes are one of my sleeper teams this year, and they have home-field advantage. So this game will show a lot of what the 2018 Iowa State team is about.

After a brief intermission for the first Big 12 conference game of the season — a meeting with Oklahoma — the Cyclones face off against the Akron Zips. These teams faced off for the first time last year in Akron, and Iowa State won 41-14. Akron is a very poor FBS team and will be a welcomed cupcake after facing Iowa and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks.

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders

SEP 1 – Ole Miss (Neutral Site)
SEP 8 – Lamar
SEP 15 – Houston

The season starts with a bang for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will meet SEC foe Ole Miss in NRG Stadium in Houston. Ole Miss is going to really struggle this year, and Texas Tech is getting them at the exact right time. These teams have met five times with Ole Miss leading the series 3-2. Defeating a household name like the Rebels would be a great look for the Red Raiders, and Ole Miss is in a down year.

In week two, Texas Tech has a hometown showdown with Lamar. The Lamar  Cardinals were 2-9 last year and are an FCS school from the Southland Conference. Lamar isn’t much real competition, and Texas Tech should mow them over.

In week three, Houston comes to Lubbock. These teams have played a whopping 31 times with, surprisingly, Houston winning 60 percent of those games. The good news is that this isn’t a Houston team we’ve come to expect from them. They’re not a top 50 team this year, and should not repeat their recent success in 2018. Houston should struggle in the American Conference and in Lubbock.

Texas Tech got Ole miss and Houston at two very good times and could go 3-0 to start the season, which may be key for any bowl game hopes this year.

4. TCU Horned Frogs

SEP 1 – Southern
SEP 15 – Ohio State (Neutral Site)

TCU has the toughest game anyone in the Big 12 will play out of conference this season, but that isn’t untill week three. The Frogs open with Southern. The Jaguars are in the Southwestern Conference in the FCS. They went 7-4 in FCS play last year, and missed the playoffs. There’s not much to say here as it should be an easy win for the Horned Frogs.

In week two, the SMU Mustangs from the American Conference come to Fort Worth for the battle for the Iron Skillet. SMU is really going to have a hard time in the American Conference this year, I think there are at least 100 teams better than them this year. This will be the 97th meeting between these teams and it’s very even split with TCU only winning 50 of those games.

TCU has made significant strides of the last few years, and should have no problem with this rivalry game. The Frogs only worry in this game is them looking ahead to week three.

In week three, the big boys come to town in what is basically a home game for TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Ohio State Buckeyes are considered a playoff team headed into the season, and it’s going to be a difficult matchup. Although, they are in a bit of turmoil at the moment, and we will have to see how well the Buckeyes handle the distractions.

It’s safe to say though, TCU is going to see what they are made of on September 15th.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

SEP 1 – Tennessee (Neutral Site)
SEP 8 – Youngstown State
SEP 15 – NC State

West Virginia, like Texas Tech, are getting two household names in the middle of down seasons. They open with the Tennessee Volunteers at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. Tennessee is in the middle of a down stretch of years and the Mountaineers should handle them. Especially if West Virginia wants to live up to the hype for 2018. A loss here would be a blow.

The Mountaineers host Youngstown State in week two. The Penguins played in Morgantown two years ago, and fell to West Virginia 38-21. However, don’t over look this Missouri Valley Conference team. They took Pitt to overtime last season. This is a game that West Virginia should win, but it is a trap game and they will have to be careful not to overlook it.

In week three, WVU travels to Raleigh, NC, to take on the NC State Wolfpack from the ACC in their second Power Five non-conference game. NC State is a good program looking at a down year. The Mountaineers are familiar with the Wolfpack as they’ve met ten times before. The series is split 5-5, so this game has some bragging rights on the line. The Mountaineers are the better team and should handle the road environment well.

West Virginia has a decent chance to come out of their non-conference slate 3-0, and could look very dangerous headed into Big 12 play. However, a loss here, and the Mountaineer faithful’s preseason expectations would have to be tempered.

2. Texas Longhorns

SEP 1 – Maryland (Neutral Site)
SEP 8 – Tulsa
SEP 15 – USC

Expectations are high in Austin once again, and once again, it won’t take long to find out what the Longhorns are made of.

The Texas hype train will meet a familiar foe in their season opener. One who beat them last season in Austin. If they want revenge, and we’re pretty sure they do, they’ll have to do it on the road in what is basically a home game for Maryland at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. This game will give the Big 12 a chance to get a win over the Big Ten, and will go a long way in telling whether Texas is actually on the way back.

Week two features the Longhorn’s home opener. The Tulsa Golden Hurricanes should provide a brief break for what is a loaded front schedule for Texas. This will be their first meeting, and Tulsa may be hard to watch this season. One of the worst teams in the American Conference, they shouldn’t even put up a fight in Austin.

Week three feature a battle between two of college football’s heavyweights. Texas and USC have met six times before, and Texas, behind a herculean from quarterback Vince Young, upset Southern California in the Rose Bowl to win the 2005 National Championship. However, USC atoned for that loss last season by beating the Longhorns in double overtime.

Both the Longhorns and the Trojans are trying to reclaim past glory, and this game seems like a toss up featuring two top 20 teams. Texas has home field this time around, and you can expect Darrell K Royal Stadium to be packed.

1. Oklahoma Sooners

SEP 22 – Army

Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team that plays 3 top 50 teams in non-conference play. They might not play a top 25 team — though they will see plenty of those in Big 12 play — but it’s a consistent level of competition. Lane Kiffin and the Florida Atlantic Owls should not be underrated.

It’s a hard game to pin down, because if all goes according to the stat sheet, the Sooners should win easily. But stats sheets can go out the window when one team is playing their “Super Bowl” game and looking to make a statement. They feature a lot of Power Five talent through graduate transfer, and may be the best Group of Five team in the country. The Sooners should not look ahead, because if they do, they could get an early rude awakening.

Next week the UCLA Bruins come to Norman. The Sooners and the Bruins have played four times before, and OU has won three of them. UCLA won the last meeting, but a lot has changed since 2005. Oklahoma should win that game, as well as the next one against Army.

Army’s rushing attack is thing of a beauty, until they play a legit defense with speed, like the one at Oklahoma and lose by 40. Good luck to the Knights in slowing down the Sooner’s offense, because once they are down on the scoreboard, it’s over.

Oddly, Oklahoma has the toughest schedule, but they are also the most likely to go 3-0. They don’t have any cupcakes on the schedule, but they aren’t facing any title contenders either. It’s a great mix, and the Sooners should be undefeated heading into Big 12 play.

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