Big 12 strength of schedule rankings: Texas will have a tough go of it in 2017

Strength of schedule has become more important than ever before in college football. With the College Football Playoff Selection Committee choosing four teams to compete for the national title every season, it's not just important to win as many games as possible, you want to beat the best teams to help boost your resume.

This is why we've seen Power Five teams scheduling more Power Five opponents in nonconference play over recent seasons. Some conferences, like the Big Ten, have even adopted policies stating that they don't want their schools scheduling any more games against FCS school. And then there are conferences like the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 that have moved to nine-game conference schedules rather than the traditional eight.

And they've done all of this in an effort to improve their strength of schedule in order to help ensure that their best teams have strong resumes worth considering for the CFP at the end of the season.

It's with all of this in mind that I wanted to figure out which teams were playing the toughest schedules in 2017 before the season even started. I went through each Power Five team's 2017 schedule and rated teams based upon how they've performed in my own personal rankings -- the same mathematical rankings I use to compile the Fornelli 50 and Bottom 25 -- over the last three years. This gave me a baseline, which I then tinkered with a bit.

It's one thing to play Alabama, but are you playing them in Tuscaloosa? At a neutral site? Are you coming off a bye?

These are all variables I considered and weighted. Road games are always more difficult, and having to play a team without having a Saturday off for the last month can wear on your team as well.

As no formula is perfect -- teams always surprise you, whether it's by exceeding expectations or failing to meet them -- I averaged each teams' individual ranking based on the last three years rather than just last season. This should give us a good idea of what to expect each team will be facing in the 2017 season.

Here's how things break down for the Big 12 in 2017, from most to least difficult.

Big 12 strength of schedule

Big 12 Strength of Schedule Rankings
Oklahoma State will play the most difficult schedule in the Big 12 this season, and it's not hard to see why right from the jump. Two of the Cowboys' three nonconference games will be on the road this season against Pitt and South Alabama. Before that, they'll open the season with a tough Tulsa team. In conference play, the Cowboys will play both Texas and West Virginia on the road in consecutive weeks in late October, only to return home to take on Oklahoma the very next week. The good news is that the Cowboys' load will lighten in November with both Iowa State and Kansas, but this is a team that could be rather worn down by then.
Tom Herman's first season in Austin won't be easy. The Horns start at home against Maryland and then get San Jose State the following week. After that, it's a trip out west to take on USC. Conference play begins with Iowa State on the road, and that's followed by Texas' final bye of the season. After that, it's eight Big 12 games in eight weeks, including a five-week stretch of Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, at Baylor and at TCU.
Kansas was always bound to have one of the more difficult schedules in the Big 12 because the conference has a round-robin schedule, and unlike the other nine conference members, Kansas doesn't get to play Kansas. The nonconference schedule isn't a gauntlet as it features Southeastern Missouri, Central Michigan and a road game against Ohio. The problems come in conference play. West Virginia and Texas Tech won't be an easy start, but Kansas will play Iowa State in Ames this year. Recent history suggests the Cyclones should be Kansas' "most-beatable" opponent, so to have that game on the road this year is unfortunate. Making matters worse, the Jayhawks' four November games come against Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Iowa State is a lot like Kansas in that it doesn't get the benefit of playing itself. Its nonconference schedule is slightly more difficult than Kansas' as it features Iowa as well as Akron and Northern Iowa, but the Big 12 schedule is slightly more forgiving. Texas and a road trip to Oklahoma are a rough start, but things lighten up a bit in mid-October before November brings three road trips to West Virginia, Baylor and Kansas State. In between those games is a home date with Oklahoma State.
Tech may have one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the Big 12 as it has to play both Arizona State and Houston, while also taking on one of the FCS levels strongest programs in Eastern Washington. Still, the Red Raiders catch a small break in the Big 12 schedule. The games they're least likely to win (Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas) all come on the road for the most part, while the home schedule provides plenty of winnable games against teams like Iowa State and Kansas State. Plus, all the tougher games are spaced out nicely.
Much like Kansas' schedule strength benefits by not having Kansas on it, Oklahoma's suffers by being the only team within the conference that doesn't play Oklahoma. Fortunately for the Sooners, the overall schedule is boosted by an early road trip to Ohio State. That game offsets having UTEP and Tulane on the nonconference slate as well. As far as the Big 12 portion, of the teams you'd consider to be legit threats to win the Big 12 this season, the Sooners only face Oklahoma State outside of Norman.
The Horned Frogs don't have the most difficult Big 12 schedule, but they remain out of the bottom three thanks mostly to a nonconference game on the road against Arkansas, as well as having to play both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma on the road. It's nice for TCU to get games against West Virginia and Texas in Fort Worth, which might help the Frogs recover from a down season in 2016.
As has been the case often enough in recent years, Baylor's schedule is not very difficult, but it's not the easiest in the Big 12 this year. The non-conference schedule features Liberty and UTSA, but it also has a road trip to take on Duke as well. In the Big 12, the Bears have a manageable road slate, as only Oklahoma State looks like a road game you wouldn't think they have much chance of winning. Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas all come to Waco.
Things start out difficult enough for the Mountaineers as they take on Virginia Tech at a neutral site, but they get considerably easier after that. The rest of the nonconference schedule includes East Carolina and Delaware State, and while the Big 12 portion begins with two road games, they're against Kansas and TCU with a bye in between. Both Oklahoma State and Texas must come to Morgantown, and the regular season finishes with the toughest game on the slate: the Sooners in Norman.
While a road trip to Vanderbilt is a decent enough nonconference game for the Wildcats, their first two games against Central Arkansas and Charlotte shouldn't prove to be all that difficult. The Wildcats then get a bye week before opening the Big 12 season at home against Baylor, and they'll also get TCU, Oklahoma, and West Virginia all in Manhattan.
CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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