Scheduling matters more than ever before in the College Football Playoff era. As we've seen in the short history of the CFP, it's one of the biggest factors in deciding who gets a shot to play for a national title and who doesn't. It's not just whether or not you won your conference, but who you played along the way. It's also proven that it's not just about who you beat, but who you may have lost to along the way.

Schedules are something that has cost the Big 12 in recent years.

In the four year history of the College Football Playoff, the Big 12 has missed out on sending a representative twice. Oklahoma went in 2015 and 2017, but the conference was left out in 2014 and 2016. In 2014, both TCU and Baylor had cases to make, as they finished the regular season with 11-1 records. Some will argue that the Big 12 deciding to split its conference title instead of naming a single champion (Baylor beat TCU 61-58 during the regular season) kept it out of the CFP. I tend to believe it was the nonconference schedule of both teams that kept it out.

Baylor picked up wins against SMU, Northwestern State, and Buffalo while TCU took down SMU as well, along with Minnesota and Samford.

Meanwhile, in the two seasons, Oklahoma made the CFP, it had nonconference wins against Tennessee and Ohio State (both on the road). Some wins move the needle more than others.

So which Big 12 teams have the most difficult schedules this season? 

Methodology: It's hard to know with any certainty seeing as how the season doesn't start for another few months, and while no process is perfect, this one provides a good overview. I took a look at how every team performed over the last five years in my ranking system. While there are always exceptions, teams tend to find their level over a longer time span, hence the five-year period. I then considered other factors like whether a game is on the road, or if a team is coming off a bye week, allowing them extra time to get healthy and prepare. I put all this information together and came out with a ranking system I believe to be fairly accurate.

I figured this out by comparing how every team on the FBS level has done over the last five years according to my own ranking formula. This gave each team a "strength." I then took it a step further by evaluating whether a team is playing somebody at home, or on the road. I took into consideration bye weeks or consecutive games against difficult opponents. And in the end, this is how the dust settled on Big 12 schedules in 2018.

Big 12 Schedule Rankings
While I don't expect Texas to be a CFP contender this season, if it manages to get through the regular season in the hunt, its schedule won't be the thing that holds it back. The Longhorns feature both Maryland and USC in their nonconference schedule, as well as a game against Tulsa.  When it comes to Big 12 play, like everyone else in the conference, Texas will play a round-robin schedule. Aside from the annual tilt with Oklahoma at a neutral site, the Horns have home games against TCU, Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State. The road schedule includes Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas.
The Red Raiders will not leave the state of Texas before Big 12 play begins. Also like Texas, they have two respectable nonconference games in Ole Miss and Houston, as well as the requisite FCS opponent in Lamar. Big 12 play provides some challenges. While Tech gets both Oklahoma and Texas at home, those games are in consecutive weeks. It also gets Oklahoma State, TCU and Iowa State all on the road.
The Cyclones were one of the bigger surprises in college football last season, and won't sneak up on anyone in 2018. Their finishing third here has a lot more to do with conference play than nonconference. The Clones will play at Iowa and home against South Dakota State and Akron. In the Big 12, their first three conference games are Oklahoma, at TCU and at Oklahoma State. The Akron game is between Oklahoma and TCU, but there are no bye weeks between any of them. Things get slightly easier after that, but only because it can't get much harder.
The Mountaineers have a respectable nonconference this season, as they'll open the year with Tennessee and then take a road trip to face NC State after a game against Youngstown State. Still, they're going to need Tennessee to improve, and for NC State to maintain what it did last season for those games to carry weight at the end of the year. Inside the Big 12, it's a soft start and a hard landing. I could see this team being 4-1 in the Big 12 entering mid-October, but its final four games are at Texas, vs. TCU, at Oklahoma State and home against Oklahoma in a short week.
A little secret about Kansas' ranking. Until things change, Kansas will always have an advantage in these rankings because Kansas can't play Kansas. Therefore Kansas can't drag down its own SOS. It's definitely a factor here, as Kansas' nonconference slate of Nicholls, Central Michigan and Rutgers isn't going to turn many heads. Still, the schedule provides challenges, particularly in the back half. The Jayhawks must play TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas over a five-week stretch.
Oklahoma's schedule is hurt a bit in these rankings due to the fact I assess a team's strength over the past five years and not just last season. If it were just last year, a nonconference slate of UCLA, Florida Atlantic and Army would carry more weight than it currently does. What holds the schedule back further (compared to the rest of the conference) is that Texas is at a neutral site, and the Sooners get Oklahoma State in Norman. Still, road games against Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia certainly won't be easy.
Overall, TCU's nonconference isn't as strong as a few others here, but it still has one thing nobody else in the conference has: Ohio State. If the Frogs beat the Buckeyes, that will be the game everyone talks about when looking at their resume, not SMU and Southern. TCU also gets both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at home this season, and while there are no easy two-week stretches, the Frogs toughest games are all spaced out.
As has typically been the case during Bill Snyder's tenure, Kansas State's nonconference isn't too daunting, though Mississippi State is more than respectable. South Dakota and UTSA lesser though. The killer part of Kansas State's schedule comes over a four-week span from Oct. 13 to Nov. 3. That's when the Wildcats will play Oklahoma State at home, followed by a bye week and consecutive road games against Oklahoma and TCU.
Nobody will be surprised to learn that Baylor has one of the weaker nonconference schedules in the Big 12. It plays Abilene Christian, UTSA and Duke (at least its playing UTSA on the road?). Inside the conference, the Bears will go on the road to play Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Iowa State, while getting Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU at home.
If Oklahoma State wins the Big 12 this season, you can bet its schedule will be used against it in a court of CFP worthiness. The nonconference features a home game against Boise State, but that's not worth as much as it may have been five years ago. Its other two games are against Missouri State and South Alabama. Where Oklahoma State will likely have a case is that if it beats both Oklahoma and TCU this season, it will have beaten both on the road, and both in the final three weeks of the regular season. So the memory of those wins would be fresh in the minds of the CFP committee.