The Big 12 prides itself as the only Power Five conference that features a round robin schedule. Everyone plays one another with the top two teams facing off in a rematch every December in Arlington, Texas, in the Big 12 Championship Game.
While that process makes things more equitable, it also makes them harder because there are no breaks due to divisional lines. As such, ranking the Big 12 schedules requires a bit of a different approach. There's more nuance -- some teams get five conference home games while others have four, for example. Those particulars, along with nonconference opponents, make up this year's Big 12 strength of schedule rankings.
Which teams have the easiest roads to navigate this fall and which ones have the hardest? Let's break all 10 down below.
|There's some buzz about West Virginia in 2021 as a team that could surprise. Maybe so, but the schedule affords few gimmes. Rivalry games against Maryland and Virginia Tech in the noncon are toss-ups, and the Mountaineers only get four conference home games. Some late October/November home games against Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas are ripe for a signature win or two, but the road slate is tricky and there's a trip to Oklahoma. Neal Brown has coached his tail off in his first two years, and that will have to continue in 2021 if the 'Eers are to get back to the postseason.|
|Kansas State has the hardest first six games of any Big 12 team. A season-opener against Stanford (in Arlington) and a home game against Nevada make up a largely challenging nonconference run. That's followed by games against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State. The latter two are at home, but those could very well be your top three teams in the Big 12. On that note, however, the Wildcats' toughest games are largely at home, and Manhattan can be a difficult place for visitors. We'll find out a lot about this team by mid-October.|
|TCU has two things going against its 2021 schedule. The nonconference portion is tough with games against Cal and SMU. Both are in Fort Worth and winnable, which is a plus, but neither is a guarantee. The Big 12 road trips are also a grind. The Frogs have to go to Oklahoma and Iowa State, and trips to Oklahoma State and Kansas State are no walks in the park, either. And if Texas Tech is improved at all, the Oct. 9 game in Lubbock could be tricky. As I wrote in the Big 12 win totals piece, TCU feels like a team that could go anywhere from 5-7 to 9-3.|
|Texas has some road bumps in its schedule right out of the gate. Louisiana and Arkansas are no joke as nonconference opponents, so first-year coach Steve Sarkisian better be careful because these are not the types of teams you want to start your tenure against. The conference home slate is pretty manageable, but traveling to Iowa State and West Virginia is a headache. This is not the easiest slate for a first-year coach.|
|The Red Raiders should win at least two of their three nonconference games, and while Houston is technically a neutral-site opponent, the game is at NRG Stadium. There are some difficult road games, though, including a long trip to Morgantown to face West Virginia right after trip to Texas. Plus Tech has to play Oklahoma in Norman. That's followed by a game against Iowa State, albeit after an open week. Yuck. No thanks.|
|I'm more bullish on the Cowboys than bookmakers, but I'll admit there are plenty of places to stumble along their schedule. Tulsa and Boise State are both winnable games, but traveling to the latter could get at least a little weird. The conference schedule sets up pretty evenly, too, with five home games. Kansas State, TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all come to Stillwater while Oklahoma State travels to Texas, West Virginia, Iowa State and Texas Tech. Not easy, but not unfairly hard, either.|
|Coming off perhaps their best season in the modern era, 2021 could be an even bigger year for the Cyclones. The noncon slate is mostly a cruise, and Iowa State will be bloodthirsty to finally knock off Iowa at home. The only thing that prevents Iowa State from being ranked higher is the conference road slate. Going to Oklahoma is going to be tough, and trips to Kansas State and West Virginia could result in an upset somewhere. Overall, though, Iowa State should be able to handle its business at home, which in and of itself would pad the win total.|
|Look, pretty much every game is going to be tough for the Jayhawks. I'm not going to sit here and say this schedule is easy for them. But, objectively, it's also not the hardest. South Dakota should be a win and plenty of teams would be fine traveling to Duke. The Jayhawks also get five conference home games, one of which is Oklahoma. Kansas won't win many games this year, but if it's able to win a few -- the win total is at 1.5, per William Hill Sportsbook -- the reason will be its schedule.|
|Unlike Kansas, Oklahoma will be favored in every one of its games, but its road doesn't hurt, either. A closer look shows a winnable nonconference slate. Opening at Tulane is a bit funky but manageable, and the Sept. 18 game vs. Nebraska doesn't have the same lore as it used to. The Sooners' toughest conference game on paper, vs. Iowa State, will be in Norman in late November, when College Football Playoff chatter is in full bloom. A couple of road games at Kansas State or Oklahoma State could get dicey, but overall this is a pretty clear path to the Big 12 Championship Game and beyond.|
|After a tough first season in Waco, coach Dave Aranda is hoping for a turnaround in 2021. The good news is the schedule is accommodating. Games at Texas State and against Texas Southern are certainly winnable, and even a midseason matchup against BYU affords an opportunity for a statement win. It's a home game and Bears offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes just arrived from the Cougars program. I'd bet Baylor starts 3-0 and all its toughest games (vs. Iowa State, Texas and Oklahoma) are at home.|