Time to start analyzing each team's schedule across the Big 12. Next up, those Cyclones in Ames.
Nonconference (with 2011 records):
Sept. 1: Tulsa (8-5)
Sept. 8: at Iowa (7-6)
Sept. 22: Western Illinois (2-9)
Home Big 12 games:
Sept. 29: Texas Tech (5-7)
Oct. 13: Kansas State (10-3)
Oct. 27: Baylor (10-3)
Nov. 3: Oklahoma (10-3)
Nov. 24: West Virginia (10-3)
Away Big 12 games:
Oct. 6: at TCU (11-2)
Oct. 20: at Oklahoma State (12-1)
Nov. 10: at Texas (8-5)
Nov. 17: at Kansas (2-10)
Non-con challenge: at Iowa. Iowa State snuck out of Ames with a comeback, triple-overtime win over the Hawkeyes last season, coach Paul Rhoads' first over the in-state rivals. This year, though, it's about to get much tougher, and Iowa should be better, with plenty to prove. Add that it's been a decade since ISU has won in Iowa City and, well, you know why we're calling this one a challenge.
Gut-check game: Texas Tech. Iowa State beat the Red Raiders by 14 in Ames in 2010. The Cyclones embarrassed them at home last season a week after Tech's win at Norman over Oklahoma. If Iowa State wants to convince people it's once again a bowl team, winning this game will be key. Both teams have a bit of upside, but Tech has been rocked by injuries the past two seasons. If it's healthy this time around, can Iowa State still prove it's destined for the postseason?
Upset watch: West Virginia. Look out, Mountaineers. You've been warned. Iowa State did it to Nebraska in 2009, and followed it up with a win over Texas in 2010. Last year, Oklahoma State proved that ISU can beat anybody in this league. WVU will be coming off an emotional home game against Oklahoma, and will be making its first trip to Ames. Welcome to the Big 12. First lesson: Beware of the Cyclones.
Snoozer: Western Illinois. ISU has a pretty good nonconference schedule, but Western Illinois was an awful FCS team in 2011, and lost 69-0 in the one game it played against Big 12 competition. It could have been worse, too. Mizzou led 42-0 at halftime. Enjoy the cakewalk, Cyclones. There won't be any in the Big 12 this year.
Chance to impress: Kansas State. Iowa State always seems to play the Wildcats close, and this year could be yet another example. Last year's game was tied at 23 with four minutes to play, the Cyclones led by three in the fourth quarter of 2010's loss and the 2009 game was decided by a blocked extra point in the final minute. Maybe ISU doesn't knock off WVU, but K-State seems like a prime candidate for the Cyclones annual massive upset.
Final analysis: Iowa State gets five teams in Ames, an increasingly difficult place to win for Big 12 teams. The Cyclones saw record crowds in 2011, and expect that to continue with the league's new blood in 2012. Four of the final five games in Ames are against 10-win teams in 2011, though. Its first two road games are against 11-win teams in 2011. Iowa State also landed a bye before conference play begins, which may come in handy, but it follows a game against an FCS opponent. The Cyclones may have been better served by a bye week later in the season, but it's a relatively balanced schedule. ISU has one of the Big 12's toughest nonconference schedules, and faces an uphill battle to bowl eligibility, but by now, we should all have learned that doubting Paul Rhoads comes with inherent risks. Namely, a high probability of being incorrect.