This is year two of the leaner, meaner, cleaner, greener Big 12 conference. Okay, so the cleaner and greener statements are not accurate, and the meaner part might be up for debate.
But the league is definitely leaner and seems to have stabilized after a couple of years of upheaval in the realignment skirmishes. Media rights have gone up, and the depth of the league seems to have increased. Nine of the ten teams in the conference went bowling last season, with the Kansas Jayhawks being the only ones left at home in December.
This is a new year, though, and lots of things have changed. Is this the year that the conference gets everyone bowl eligible? Probably not, but who has the easiest go of it this season and who will have to grind out wins to get a winning record? Let’s look at the strength of schedules for the Big 12, from most difficult to easiest.
1) Oklahoma – The Sooners will play three bowl teams in their non conference schedule, with two of those games taking place at home (Louisiana-Monroe, Tulsa) and one on the road in South Bend (Notre Dame). In conference play, the Sooners play what look like their toughest games away from home, with road games at Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor and the neutral site Red River Shootout against Texas in Dallas.
2) TCU – The Horned Frogs begin their second campaign in the Big 12 with a neutral site game against LSU at Cowboys Stadium. That test, however, is balanced by the rest of their non-conference schedule, which features SMU and Southeastern Louisiana (an FCS team). TCU has to travel to Norman, Stillwater, Manhattan and Ames for their conference road games. None of those games will be easy.
3) Iowa State – The Cyclones face two in-state rivals in Iowa and Northern Iowa to open the season, and then travel to Tulsa for the final non-conference game. Iowa State faces Texas at home to start conference play and then travels to Texas Tech and Baylor in back to back games. The Cyclones also have to travel to Kansas State and Oklahoma in conference play—a challenging road to hoe for Paul Rhoads’s team.
4) Oklahoma State – The Cowboys will open with a neutral site game in Houston versus a solid SEC West team in Mississippi State before feasting on two tasty cupcakes in UTSA and FCS squad Lamar. That UTSA game could be a trap, though, as it is in San Antonio. Oklahoma State gets Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma at home, but has to travel to Texas.
5) Kansas – The Jayhawks are in year two of the Charlie Weis experience, and after last year’s abomination, there is nowhere to go but up. Opening with South Dakota helps ease into the season, but the Jayhawks then travel to Rice and host Louisiana Tech. In conference, Kansas travels to TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State, so it will be challenging for them, but it is not as difficult a schedule as it could have been. Will they be able to find six wins?
6) Baylor – The Bears could be a dark horse contender for the Big 12 title. Baylor did slide back a bit last season, but they also proved that they were more than the Robert Griffin III show. Louisiana-Monroe might be able to give the Bears a game, but Buffalo and Wofford should not provide much of a challenge. In conference, Baylor has to play at Kansas State early and plays back to back road games against Oklahoma State and TCU late in the season. Counting a neutral site game against Texas Tech in Cowboys Stadium, the Bears are not home for three straight weeks near the end of the season before finishing with Texas at home, closing up Floyd Casey Stadium.
7) Texas – The Longhorns will travel to Provo to face BYU and host Ole Miss. They also host New Mexico State, but they should be able to handle the Aggies. In conference, Texas will face all of their tough opponents at home or at a neutral site (Oklahoma) except for the season finale at Baylor.
8) Kansas State – Louisiana-Lafayette is an up and coming team from the Sun Belt. That is the stiffest non-conference opponent K-State will face in 2013. The other two opponents for the Wildcats are UMass and North Dakota. Yeah. Those cupcakes should be nice and tasty to help start off the post Collin Klein era. In conference, K-State will start with two consecutive road games at Texas and Oklahoma State. Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma all come to Manhattan, so the Wildcats should have the home field advantage.
9) West Virginia – The Mountaineers host William & Mary and Georgia State in non-conference play (combined record in 2012: 3-19) and play a neutral site game against Maryland in Baltimore. In conference, West Virginia does have to travel to Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and TCU. But that non-conference is very soft and squishy.
10) Texas Tech – Kliff Kingsbury is coming home to coach his alma mater after the abruptly ended Tommy Tuberville reign, and his first squad gets to face SMU, Stephen F. Austin and Texas State for the first three games of the campaign. Tech has to travel to play at Oklahoma and at Texas, but plays all of their other hard conference games either at home or at a neutral site (Baylor). It seems like Texas Tech has a chance to make Kliff’s first year as a head coach a very good one.