Let's take a closer look at the schedule for the Big 12's biggest brand and a team looking to turn the corner in 2013: The Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Aug. 30: at SMU (Friday)
Sept. 7: Stephen F. Austin
Sept. 12: TCU (Thursday)
Sept. 21: Texas State
Oct. 5: at Kansas
Oct. 12: Iowa State
Oct. 19: at West Virginia
Oct. 26: at Oklahoma
Nov. 2: Oklahoma State
Nov. 9: Kansas State
Nov. 16: Baylor at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas
Nov. 28: at Texas (Thursday)
Non-con challenge: at SMU. Tech hasn't had much drama in its recent dates with the Mustangs, winning the last 14 meetings dating back to 1989. SMU, though, has been resurgent under June Jones and nearly mounted a comeback to beat the Red Raiders in Lubbock in 2010. Garrett Gilbert struggled last season, but he'll be looking for a big debut at home in his final season. This is his second year in the offense, and the Red Raiders will be on the road in the first game with a new coaching staff. There are bound to be some jitters. A rough start could put Tech in a bind against a program that's gone to bowl games in each of the past four seasons.
Chance to impress: TCU. The Frogs are my most likely team among the Big 12's major contenders to fall short of expectations, and they'll have to come to Lubbock in a tough early-season game. It'll be the first major test for Kliff Kingsbury, and a huge game at home. The Red Raiders will have nothing to lose against a top-15 -- possibly top-10 -- opponent and with a big Thursday night stage, plenty around the nation will be watching. A win could launch a big season and proclaim an arrival of sorts for Texas Tech.
Gut-check game: Iowa State. Iowa State's been a tough out for Texas Tech, and beat the Red Raiders by double digits twice in three seasons under Tommy Tuberville. ISU won't be circled on any team's calendar, but the Red Raiders had a tough, defensive battle in Ames last year and might see another this season in Lubbock.
Upset watch: at Kansas. Hear me out, here. Kansas is carrying a 21-game losing streak in Big 12 play into the season, and will open Big 12 play at home against the Red Raiders. Tech's only win of the last five games of the regular season was against the 1-11 Jayhawks, but it took overtime to do it, and they needed some late-game heroics to make it happen. KU knows its strengths heading into the season and should have an upgrade at quarterback in Jake Heaps with what should be a good home crowd behind it. Danger, Tech. Danger!
Final analysis: Tech's biggest oddity is playing three mid-week games, including games against in-state rivals Texas and TCU. Wins in those games will earn a lot more attention nationally, but Tech's neutral-site game against Baylor gives it four Big 12 home games and four conference games on the road. The schedule leans heavily toward a difficult back half. It's entirely possible Tech is sitting at 6-1 after seven games, but the final five games of the year are all against teams I projected to finish higher in the Big 12 standings than the Red Raiders. That stretch will decide how Tech remembers Kingsbury's first season, but if it trips up and sits at 4-3 entering that stretch, reaching a bowl game may prove difficult.