Grading teams on their non-conference schedules is always a tough task. There are generally two ways to do it. You can either give objective criteria as to what constitutes a good grade, or you can subjectively relate the value of each nonconference game to the team that scheduled it. I don’t like the first choice, though. It’s not fair to expect Kansas to schedule the same was that Oklahoma does. Any team that has legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations should schedule as such. Other teams just need to schedule in a way that will both challenge them and maximize their ability to have the best season possible.
I am also not going to be overly harsh when teams play FCS opponents, either. I don’t like it, at all, but I understand the necessity of it (especially for in-state opponents) and the benefits it can have as a “tune-up” for a team’s season. Playing one “cupcake”, especially at the start of a season, won’t hurt a team’s grade too much so long as the rest of the schedule is difficult.
I will grade each game by each team individually and then add a final overall grade, which will not necessarily be an average of the individual games.
Big 12 Nonconference Schedule Grades
September 2nd: Northwestern State
Baylor starts off its weak non-conference schedule with an FCS team. Completely expected, and not a good thing.
September 10th: SMU
This is a revival of an old rivalry, which we really can’t fault Baylor for. But the Bears have played the Mustangs the last three years while SMU has been one of the worst teams in the country. This game by itself is not a particular knock on the schedule, but when combined with two other cupcake games the end result isn’t good.
September 16th: @Rice
Don’t let the fact that this is a road game fool you. Rice Stadium has a 58,000 seat capacity that it never fills. There will be mostly Baylor fans here. Also, don’t let Rice’s five wins last year also fool you. The Owls were not a good team last year and probably won’t be this year.
The program did not learn from the 2014 CFP snub to upgrade its non-conference scheduling. This will be the third consecutive years where the Bears rank towards the very bottom of FBS of non-conference SOS. Yes, the program developed bigger problems over the summer and a few free wins to start the year might be part of the antidote for its ailments, at least the on-the-field ones. But this schedule was cowardly at the time it was made. There is no other way to describe it.
Iowa State Cyclones
September 3rd: Northern Iowa
Yes, the Panthers are an FCS team. But they are a perennially strong one that constantly challenges their in-state FBS rivals. Can’t blame Iowa State for scheduling them, and it usually is a good game to start the season.
September 10th: @Iowa
Just like I can’t give too much blame for scheduling in-state FCS teams, I can’t give too much credit for scheduling yearly rivals, though it will definitely up the overall grade. This battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy often provides entertaining games and Iowa is expected to be a top-level opponent here.
September 24th: San Jose State
The Spartans were one of the lucky teams to make a bowl game at 5-7 last year and paid it off with a win in the Cure Bowl. They are not a great team, but they are not quite a full-blown cupcake either, and it is perfectly acceptable for Iowa State to throw them in between early-season challenges against TCU and Baylor.
This is what a solid schedule for a Big 12 team — especially one who won’t really be a Playoff contender — looks like. It starts with a not-quite-cupcake, has a top-level Power 5 team, and ends with a should-win against a Group of 5 that is not quite a cupcake either.
September 3rd: Rhode Island
With its current state, there is honestly no such thing as a definite win for this Jayhawks program, not even a game against an FCS team that went 1-10 last year. If any other team scheduled Rhode Island, I would blast it. But Kansas needs to win games, and they’re not likely to get any in the Big 12. I’m completely okay with this choice.
September 10th: Ohio
Again, this is a game that on any other schedule would not be great, but it seems like Ohio is a perfect match for Kansas. Ohio is a middle-to-top MAC program, which Kansas can beat — but probably won’t. It should be a competitive game and seems like the right level for Kansas to play against right now.
September 17th: @Memphis
No one is quite sure how good the Tigers will be without Justin Fuente, but they are still one of the most talent-laden Group of 5 teams for this coming season, which makes them the perfect final non-conference opponent for Kansas. A win here would be an absolute dream for the Jayhawks, but it is still a game against a Group of 5 team, which makes it feel both possible and more competitive going in.
There is no P5 team on this schedule, but for Kansas, that’s okay. The Jayhawks won’t be a CFP competitor and would need a miracle (or four) just to qualify for a bowl game. That in mind, the program has a perfect non-conference schedule for its needs. It has one game it actually should win and two more that will be competitive and of potential interest to fans. I like it.
Kansas State Wildcats
September 2nd: @Stanford
The Wildcats are starting their season off with a game. It’s probably not winnable, but major props to the program for reaching here, especially since this game was scheduled last year and the Wildcats could have just as easily thrown in a cupcake game instead.
September 17th: Florida Atlantic
It seems strange that Kansas State would put a bye week after Week 1 (instead of after Week 2 or 3), and it is stranger to follow that bye up with two very easy games. FAU is a bottom-of-the-pack Conference-USA team, but the Wildcats are entitled to a warmup before Big 12 play starts.
September 24th: Missouri State
Same as above. Kansas State scheduled Stanford and now needs its pre-conference warmups.
I can’t fault a team that only has three non-conference games and plays one of them at The Farm. Sure, it would be better if one of the two cupcakes was against a better Group of 5 team, but other than that, this schedule is solid.
September 3rd: vs Houston (at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX)
There are very few times where a game against a Group of 5 team is considered a top-tier opponent for a CFP contender, but this is one of them. The season starts out with a bang for two teams that each have legitimate CFP hopes. Major Week 1 scheduling props.
September 10th: Louisiana-Monroe
I can’t complain about putting an actual tune-up between two of the biggest non-conference games of the season.
September 17th: Ohio State
This should be a blockbuster battle of blue-bloods. It’s what fans love to see in non-conference play, and the Sooners and Buckeyes are trying to deliver.
Oklahoma is starting off the season by facing two likely Top 10 teams out of conference. That’s what we love to see from top-level potential CFP contenders. When you do that, we can forgive the cupcake in between
Oklahoma State Cowboys
September 3rd: Southeastern Louisiana
A season-opener against an FCS team that had a losing record last year? Not impressed.
September 10th: Central Michigan
The Chippewas actually challenged Oklahoma State for much of the game last year. This should be an easy win against a mediocre MAC team, but it’s not a complete cupcake game.
September 17th: Pitt
At the time this game was scheduled, Pitt had not yet hired Pat Narduzzi and was a mediocre ACC team at best. It was a cheap and easy power conference opponent against an expected College Football Playoff contender. Oklahoma State lucked into this being a potentially very good game, but that wasn’t the goal. Still, we can’t complain too much about a game against a P5 opponent.
Oklahoma State has gone the cowardly route in non-conference scheduling too often recently, but that’s not quite what is happening here. There is a full-blown cupcake, but there is also a potentially challenging MAC team and a potential ACC contender on here. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but this shaped up into a solid non-conference schedule.
September 4th: Notre Dame
Two of the proudest and richest college football programs are squaring off in a season-opener on a Sunday evening, when they will have the entire football-watching world to themselves. Yes, this might be more about money than a quality game, especially since the Longhorn program is not quite where it is expected to be, but who cares? Texas went out and scheduled a big boy to open things up. Major props.
September 10th: UTEP
A week to rest in between two major opponents, while giving a paycheck to an in-state school? Like with Oklahoma, I’m okay with that.
September 24th: @California
These two provided an entertaining game last year and there is no reason to expect otherwise now. Cal might not be a world-beater, but it’s still a solid non-conference opponent, especially on a schedule that already includes Notre Dame.
This schedule has two quality P5 (sure, we’ll count Notre Dame as P5) opponents with an in-state G5 team in between. Great schedule for any major program to be proud of.
Texas Christian Horned Frogs
September 3rd: South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits might be a quality opponent in basketball, but not in football. Still, it’s fine to have a warmup the week before a major non-conference clash.
September 10th: Arkansas
The Razorbacks aren’t expected to be CFP contenders, but this is still a game against a middle-to-top SEC team. It’s a quality opponent for anyone.
September 23rd: @SMU
SMU is not a program in a good place right now, but this is an old rivalry game. It’s scheduled basically every year, no matter what quality either team is.
TCU is expected to be a potential CFP contender, so we would like to see a tiny bit more from them than just one good opponent. Still, it’s far from a bad schedule, and that SMU game was pretty locked in.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
September 3rd: Stephen F Austin
Classic cupcake opener to warm up into the season. Nothing noteworthy here.
September 10th: @Arizona State
A road game against a P5 team that is expected to be at about the same level in its own conference? These are the non-conference games we want to see.
September 17th: Louisiana Tech
This is the third game I want to see from different P5 teams. Scheduling two P5s out of conference might be too much to ask for (at least from those conferences that play nine conference games), but at least make one of the G5 teams a pretty good one. Louisiana Tech isn’t a great team or program, but it’s solid.
One P5 that should be a good matchup, one decent G5 team, and one cupcake. This is a good schedule.
West Virginia Mountaineers
September 3rd: Missouri
We love it when about evenly-matched P5 programs match up to start the season. Excellent scheduling here.
September 10th: Youngstown State
The Penguins are an FCS team, but West Virginia is entitled to one cupcake. Can’t complain too much, especially as it will mark Bo Pelini’s return to the Big 12. That should be fun.
September 24th: BYU
The Cougars are not quite a P5 team, but they are a good program and they are a quality opponent who could actually be in contention for a New Years’ 6 bowl with a good season. This should be a good game.
One Power 5 team, one excellent not-quite P5 team, and one cupcake to prepare for the season. Good schedule, WVU.