<
>

Ranking 2015 Big 12 nonconference schedules

2/13/2015

Following a year of compelling Big 12 nonconference matchups that featured the likes of Florida State, Alabama and Auburn, the league collectively has scheduled down in 2015. Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor (again) won't face a Power 5 conference opponent. Texas is the only one that will play two such teams.

Still, that doesn't mean every Big 12 nonconference game will be a bore. Texas goes to Notre Dame. Oklahoma travels to Tennessee. Texas Tech returns a trip to Arkansas.

But which team has the toughest nonconference slate? And which has the softest? The rankings are below, going from most difficult to least (*denotes FCS opponents):

1. TEXAS: at Notre Dame (8-5), Rice (8-5), Cal (5-7)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .552

  • Toughest opponent: Notre Dame

  • Weakest opponent: Rice

  • 2014 bowl teams: 2

  • Quick take: The Longhorns continue their recent trend of challenging nonconference schedules, opening with a trip to South Bend. The Fighting Irish were up-and-down last year, but they finished with a victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl. Even though it didn't make a bowl, Cal was one of the most improved teams in college football last season, going from 1-11 to 5-7 in Sonny Dykes' second year. Rice is a solid non-Power 5 opponent. It won't take long to find out what Charlie Strong has in Year 2 in Austin.

2. KANSAS: *South Dakota State (9-5), Memphis (10-3), at Rutgers (8-5)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .675

  • Toughest opponent: Memphis

  • Weakest opponent: South Dakota State

  • 2014 bowl teams: 2

  • Quick take: David Beaty will be baptized by fire. The Jayhawks have a tough nonconference slate, including South Dakota State, which made the second round of the FCS playoffs last year and defeated Kansas the last time the two met in 2012. Memphis is coming off a 10-win season; Rutgers on the road will be a big challenge, as well. This is a brutal early series of games for a program transitioning to a new coaching staff which will have the fewest returning starters in the Big 12.

3. OKLAHOMA: Akron (5-7), at Tennessee (7-6), Tulsa (2-10)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .378

  • Toughest opponent: Tennessee

  • Weakest opponent: Tulsa

  • 2014 bowl teams: 1

  • Quick take: The Sooners face potentially the toughest nonconference game of any Big 12 team with a road trip to Tennessee. The Vols have struggled in recent years, but could be on the verge of turning the corner after a series of elite recruiting classes. The Vols also return an SEC-high 18 starters, including Joshua Dobbs, who is one of the up-and-coming quarterbacks in college football. The Sooners will have to play well -- and much better than they did toward the end of last season -- to prevail in Knoxville.

4. TEXAS TECH: *Sam Houston State (11-5), UTEP (7-6), at Arkansas (7-6)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .595

  • Toughest opponent: Arkansas

  • Weakest opponent: Sam Houston State

  • 2014 bowl teams: 1

  • Quick take: The Razorbacks smacked the Red Raiders around in Lubbock last year. The return trip to Arkansas is a game the Red Raiders can win. But they have to hold up way better in the trenches. Tech struggled with UTEP last year, too, foreshadowing struggles the rest of the season. The early tilts against Sam Houston State -- a quality FCS program -- and UTEP figure to serve as a harbinger again.

5. WEST VIRGINIA: Georgia Southern (9-3), *Liberty (9-5), Maryland (7-6)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .641

  • Toughest opponent: Maryland

  • Weakest opponent: Liberty

  • 2014 bowl teams: 1

  • Quick take: After playing the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big 12 last year, the Mountaineers have a more manageable slate this time around. Still, it's not a cupcake one. Georgia Southern won the Sun Belt last year. Maryland, once again, will be one of the pivotal games on West Virginia's schedule. If the Mountaineers can beat their Atlantic rivals, they should head into Big 12 play with a boost of momentum.

6. IOWA STATE: *Northern Iowa (9-5), Iowa (7-6), at Toledo (9-4)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .625

  • Toughest opponent: Iowa

  • Weakest opponent: Northern Iowa

  • 2014 bowl teams: 2

  • Quick take: The Cyclones are actually capable of winning all three of these games -- and losing all three, as well. Iowa State has dropped its last two openers to FCS opponents, including two years ago to Northern Iowa. QB Logan Woodside is back to lead a Toledo offense that ranked 15th nationally last year. The Cyclones have had success against Iowa under Paul Rhoads, but the Hawkeyes will be out for revenge after losing on a last-second field goal. This stretch will determine whether the Cyclones will have a shot at getting back to bowl eligibility.

7. TCU: at Minnesota (8-5), *Stephen F. Austin (8-5), SMU (1-11)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .447

  • Toughest opponent: Minnesota

  • Weakest opponent: Stephen F. Austin

  • 2014 bowl teams: 1

  • Quick take: Minnesota surprisingly became a quality nonconference victory for TCU last year. A win at Minnesota, which has 13 returning starters, could be an even better win in 2015. At least the Horned Frogs better hope so. The rest of the nonconference schedule will do little to help TCU's strength of schedule résumé.

8. OKLAHOMA STATE: at Central Michigan (7-6), *Central Arkansas (6-6), UTSA (4-8)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .459

  • Toughest opponent: Central Michigan

  • Weakest opponent: Central Arkansas

  • 2014 bowl teams: 1

  • Quick take: After opening with defending champion Florida State last year, the Cowboys have dialed down their nonconference slate in 2015. The opener at Central Michigan could be a little tricky; the Chippewas qualified for the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl, and almost rallied to stun Western Michigan with a 34-point fourth quarter. But the rest of the schedule should be a mere warm-up for the Cowboys for Big 12 play.

9. KANSAS STATE: *South Dakota (2-10), UTSA (4-8), Louisiana Tech (9-5)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .395

  • Toughest opponent: Louisiana Tech

  • Weakest opponent: South Dakota

  • 2014 bowl teams: 1

  • Quick take: After facing Miami and Auburn in recent years, this schedule is more reminiscent of the early Bill Snyder nonconference slates. Louisiana Tech is decent. But this schedule should give the Wildcats time to adjust after losing so many key starters from last season's team.

10. BAYLOR: *Lamar (8-4), SMU (1-11), at Rice (8-5)

  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .405

  • Toughest opponent: Rice

  • Weakest opponent: Lamar

  • 2014 bowl teams: 1

  • Quick take: Once again, Baylor's nonconference schedule is miserable. Then again, Rice would've destroyed anyone Baylor faced last year, so at least it's an upgrade. If the Bears get into the playoff mix again, their nonconference schedule could come back to haunt them. Again.