For the first time since 2010, Big 12 teams won’t play every other fellow Big 12 member. It’s also the only time in history that both Texas and Oklahoma will be in the same league with the combination of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF.
It makes the 2023 edition of the Big 12 schedule not only an anomaly, but the end of the round-robin format means that where some teams will pick-up a competitive advantage, others will be playing against a stacked deck.
It’s just the kind of thing that can change the outcome of a season without much fanfare.
The first step in establishing potential winners and losers is to identify the “toughest” teams in the league. A quick review of seven of the major sports outlets’ Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings (ESPN, 247sports, CBS, FOX, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Yahoo) clearly identifies five programs as the early contenders.
The top tier of this subset – TCU, Texas, and Kansas State – were included in all seven of the rankings. The Horned Frogs are at the top with an average rank of No. 12 while the Longhorns are next at No. 16.7 followed by K-State at No. 17. The final two clubs – Oklahoma and Texas Tech – were mentioned in five of the seven rankings, both with an average rank of No. 22.
The only other Big 12 club included in the early rankings was Kansas, which received a No. 25 nod in FOX’s predictions. That leaves Baylor, BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, UCF, and West Virginia – which despite offering a certain level of challenge in 2023 didn’t receive any early Top 25 love.
Big 12 schedule: Oklahoma, at BYU, Iowa State, Baylor, at Oklahoma State, UCF, at Houston, at West Virginia, Kansas
Cincinnati will totally avoid playing all three of the Big 12’s big dogs – TCU, Texas, and K-State – and only has a home game with Oklahoma from the second-tier options. Though the roadie at Oklahoma State and the home date vs. Baylor won’t be picnics, overall, the Bearcats have a schedule that will make their transition into the Power 5 ranks look smoother than say, Houston, which we’ll discuss later.
Though Cincy is 53-11 since 2018, it’s only beaten one ranked Power 5 opponent during the regular season in the last 13 years – the 24-13 win at then (9) Notre Dame in 2021.
Big 12 schedule: at Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas, at West Virginia, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, at UCF, at Houston, BYU
After being ranked as high as No. 7 in last season’s AP poll, the Cowboys come into 2023 on a 2-6 streak, including dropping their last three. A potential righting of the ship will be made easier by avoiding all but K-State from the Big 12’s top three contenders (they won’t play TCU or Texas at all) and drawing a home game vs. Oklahoma from the second tier. Also missing from the mix is Baylor. Oklahoma State is one of only two of the Big 12’s old-guard programs that will play all four of the league’s new members.
Big 12 schedule: Texas Tech, at TCU, at Houston, Oklahoma State, at UCF, BYU, at Oklahoma, Cincinnati, at Baylor
From the top of the league, the Mountaineers do get the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth but won’t play Texas or K-State during the regular season. What makes their schedule potentially more difficult than the Cowboys’ is three-fold: (1). They get Oklahoma in Norman, (2). They pick up a home game vs. Texas Tech, and (3). They have Baylor as an opponent. Though it won’t be necessarily “easy” it will be “easier” which could be just what Neal Brown needs to keep his job in Morgantown. PS West Virginia joins Oklahoma State as the only other Big 12 program playing all four of the new members.
Big 12 schedule: Oklahoma State, at Oklahoma, TCU, at Cincinnati, at Baylor, Kansas, at BYU, Texas, at Kansas State
After posting five straight winning seasons under Matt Campbell, last year ISU dropped to 4-8. What won’t help attempts to return the Cyclones to the winners’ circle is a league slate that includes all three of 2023’s top dogs plus a roadie at Oklahoma, where they’ve only one once since 1990. Though it avoids Texas Tech, Iowa State plays Baylor in Waco, where they’re 1-6 since 2004.
Big 12 schedule: Texas, at UCF, Texas Tech, at Cincinnati, Iowa State, Houston, at Kansas State, at TCU, West Virginia
Not only does Baylor draw all three of the league’s top contenders, it gets the two that played in last season’s title game – K-State and TCU – on the road. The good news is that it totally avoids Oklahoma and gets Texas and Texas Tech in Waco. While not insurmountable, it amounts to a much stiffer challenge to rebound from last season (the Bears began ranked No. 10 in the AP only to finish 6-7) than Oklahoma State, a program in a similar predicament, will face.
Big 12 schedule: TCU, at Texas Tech, West Virginia, Texas, at Kansas State, at Baylor, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, at UCF
Houston’s “welcome back” party might be less celebratory with games vs. all three of the top contenders in 2023 plus a roadie to Lubbock to play Texas Tech, where it hasn’t won since 1990. While the Cougars will avoid playing Oklahoma, the only other clubs they won’t face are BYU, Iowa State, and Kansas – not necessarily the Murder’s Row of the new Big 12 (temporarily the Big 14). It’s a scheduling twist that may make Houston look less “ready” for Power 5 action than Cincinnati, which we detailed above.
Big 12 schedule: at West Virginia, Houston, at Baylor, Kansas State, at BYU, TCU, at Kansas, UCF, at Texas
Like Baylor, Texas Tech draws all three of the league’s top contenders in 2023. What makes its schedule easier than the Bears is twofold: (1). The Red Raiders play only one roadie vs. the top brass, a visit to Austin in the season finale and (2). They completely avoid the state of Oklahoma, good news for a club that’s lost two straight (and a dismal 12 of the last 14) to OSU and who’s win over OU last season snapped a ten-game losing skid.
Big 12 schedule: at Houston, West Virginia, at Iowa State, BYU, at Kansas State, at Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor, at Oklahoma
Not only does TCU draw the other two top contenders in the league – playing games at K-State and vs. Texas – they get the entire second tier – Oklahoma and Texas Tech – on the road. Add in a visit from a hated rival with vengeance on its heart, Baylor, and the only opponents the Frogs won’t play are Cincinnati, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and UCF.
Big 12 schedule: at Baylor, Kansas, vs. Oklahoma (at Dallas, Texas), at Houston, BYU, K-State, at TCU, at Iowa State, Texas Tech
While, like the Horned Frogs, the Longhorns draw all four of their fellow top contenders in 2023 the only true roadie comes at TCU. Also on the plus side, they avoid Oklahoma State, which they’ve dropped six of their last eight (including two straight) to. The only other older-guard program it won’t play in its final season in the Big 12 is West Virginia.
Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.