MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Most Big 12 football programs have begun taking their nonconference scheduling seriously, except of course at Baylor, where larger issues—like treating students with basic, human decorum—are commanding more attention.
Today’s Gold & Blue Lunch Report ranks the league’s out-of-conference schedules for this season:
Sept. 2 – Northwestern State
Sept. 10 – SMU
Sept. 17 – at Rice
If ever there was a scandal-proof lineup, this is it. The Mustangs, Owls and FCS Demons combined to go 11-24 last year. For those scoring at home, this makes the fifth consecutive season Baylor hasn’t scheduled anyone of note.
Sept. 3 – Rhode Island
Sept. 10 – Ohio
Sept. 17 – at Memphis
URI (8-49 last five seasons) essentially is the FCS version of the Jayhawks, so kudos to KU for picking on someone its own size.
By any other program’s standards, this is a tame lineup, but odds are Kansas will drop two of three. Ohio likely will prove that Kansas could not win the MAC East and Week 3 brings a rematch against Memphis, which won by 32 in Lawrence last season.
8. IOWA STATE
Sept. 3 – Northern Iowa
Sept. 10 – at Iowa
Sept. 24 – San Jose State
Chasing the Cy-Hawk Trophy remains top priority under Paul Rhoads’ successor Matt Campbell, especially with Iowa returning 15 starters. But UNI is coming off a trip to the FCS quarterfinals and San Jose State returns the nucleus from a 5-7 team that gained entry to the Cure Bowl and won.
7. OKLAHOMA STATE
Sept. 3 – Southeastern Louisiana
Sept. 10 – Central Michigan
Sept. 17 – Pittsburgh
Mike Gundy prefers fluffy, warmup bouts in September. Thankfully, AD Mike Holder comprehends the bigger picture. After not playing a Power 5 nonconference game in 2015, the Cowboys begin a home-and-home with Pitt. Not overly thrilling, but at least the Panthers figure to be in the ACC’s upper half.
Sept. 3 – South Dakota State
Sept. 10 – Arkansas
Sept. 23 – at SMU
SDSU won its 2015 cash game at Kansas and advanced to the FCS playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. So, as lower-division opponents go, there’s that.
But the Frogs won’t earn any real cred unless they beat the Razorbacks, a team that like TCU, returns a stacked defense and a litany of offensive questions. Their Week 2 matchup could be a low-scoring throwback.
5. TEXAS TECH
Sept. 3 – Stephen F. Austin
Sept. 10 – at Arizona State
Sept. 17 – Louisiana Tech
Tempe may see tackle-optional football when the Red Raiders (125th in scoring defense last season) visit Arizona State (1,356 yards allowed in its final two games). It’s just good to see Tech finally playing someone of note outside the league after ducking all Power 5 opponents from 2004 through 2013.
Louisiana Tech, rebuilding after back-to-back nine-win seasons, doesn’t appear to be much of a threat.
4. KANSAS STATE
Sept. 2 – at Stanford
Sept. 17 – Florida Atlantic
Sept. 24 – Missouri State
With Stanford reloaded and in the hunt for yet another Pac-12 title, Wildcat defenders pray they’re not reduced to playing extras in Christian McCaffrey’s Heisman highlight reel.
FAU, which took Florida to overtime last year while going 3-9, could be the kind of overlooked opponent that gives K-State a scare early.
3. WEST VIRGINIA
Sept. 3 – Missouri
Sept. 10 – Youngstown State
Sept. 24 – BYU (at Landover, Md.)
Most seasons, facing Mizzou and BYU would make for one hellacious September. But with both programs undergoing coaching transitions in 2016, the challenge looks manageable.
Las Vegas has made the Tigers 13-point underdogs heading to Morgantown. And by the time the Cougars arrive at FedEx Field, they will have faced half the Pac-12 South, whereas West Virginia will be coming off a bye.
Along with trap-game potential, the Youngstown State matchup offers Bo Pelini the chance to make secretly recorded comments about WVU fans.
Sept. 4 – Notre Dame
Sept. 10 – UTEP
Sept. 17 – at California
With nine defensive starters returning, perhaps this is the year Charlie Strong can turn the corner. But can he be brave enough to start true freshman Shane Buechele against the Irish in the opener?
There’s no Jared Goff at Cal, but the goal posts in Berkeley are still 18 feet, 6 inches wide, just as they were last year when Texas botched a late PAT.
Sept. 3 – at Houston
Sept. 10 – ULM
Sept. 17 – Ohio State
The Sooners consistently engage big-name opponents, and if they beat the Buckeyes, fracking won’t be the only thing causing earthquakes in Norman.
The opener at NRG Stadium also carries plenty of intrigue, with Group of Five headliner Houston aiming to crash the college football playoffs and prove it belongs in the Big 12.
Playing two top-25 opponents early shows Oklahoma understands the landscape: In a league without a 13th data point, you’ve got to make the other 12 count.