Time to start analyzing each team's schedule across the Big 12. Next up, those new-look Jayhawks in Lawrence.
Nonconference (with 2011 records):
Sept. 1: South Dakota State (5-6)
Sept. 8: Rice (4-8)
Sept. 22: at Northern Illinois (11-3)
Home Big 12 games:
Sept. 15: TCU (11-2)
Oct. 13: Oklahoma State (12-1)
Oct. 27: Texas (8-5)
Nov. 17: Iowa State (6-7)
Away Big 12 games:
Oct. 6: at Kansas State (10-3)
Oct. 20: at Oklahoma (10-3)
Nov. 3: at Baylor (10-3)
Nov. 10: at Texas Tech (5-7)
Dec. 1: at West Virginia (10-3)
Non-con challenge: Northern Illinois. This is a tough pick. As the 2011 season wore on, KU's win over the Huskies became more and more unbelievable. Northern Illinois eventually won the MAC and finished 11-3 for a very, very good season. Kansas didn't win another game the rest of the season. Now, without all-everything QB Chandler Harnish, Kansas travels to Dekalb, Ill., to try to take on what seems like a perennially underrated team. This one won't be easy.
Gut-check game: at Kansas State. Bill Snyder has completely humiliated KU in each of the past two seasons, turning the Sunflower Showdown into a Sunflower Showcase for the Wildcats, who outscored KU 118-28 in the past two games. Kansas doesn't have to win this one, but it has to make it at least something close to competitive against a very good, very experienced in-state rival. The balance of power in Kansas has completely shifted west to Manhattan.
Chance to impress: at Baylor. No doubt about this one. Kansas should have beaten the Bears last year. Heisman winner Robert Griffin III pulled a ridiculous Houdini act to erase a 21-0 fourth-quarter deficit and force overtime, where Baylor continued its march to a 10-win season. Kansas needs at least one conference win this year, and after playing the Big 12's top five teams in its first five conference games, this may be its first real chance to spring what could be a season-changing, momentum-building upset.
Snoozer: South Dakota State. I will always rail on games between FBS and FCS teams, even though Kansas provided one of the memorable ones in 2010, when North Dakota State knocked off KU, 6-3, in Turner Gill's debut. This one should be nothing like that disaster, but don't expect the Jackrabbits to entirely lay down.
Good luck with that: Texas. Nobody embarrassed KU last year like Texas did, and the Longhorns are coming back for more in Lawrence. The Longhorns should have the league's best running game, and it'll seriously test a suspect front seven at Kansas. Many of those who'll be playing in this game have yet to even participate in a real practice at KU. Meanwhile, the Longhorns should have a very good offensive line and arguably the conference's best offensive backfield.
Final analysis: Kansas finally beat K-State at something: having the toughest schedule we've seen so far. The Jayhawks have to face four 10-win teams on the road this year, and only get four Big 12 games at home. The schedule is heavily front-loaded, which actually sets up Kansas to do some good things late and build into what should be a more productive 2013 season. The first four teams KU plays in conference play all won at least 10 games last year, but Kansas gets its best chances at a conference win in successive weeks in November when it faces Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech. All three teams were in trouble against the Jayhawks last season. KU fans would be ecstatic to take two of three from that group. It seems a bit far-fetched now, but we'll see what KU learns about itself during that brutal stretch to begin conference play. Then, of course, KU has to close at West Virginia, which very well may be trying to close out a title, or keep its Big 12 title hopes alive on the season's final weekend. I expect KU to win about four games, but in a league this deep, it's going to have to earn it.