The Big 12's schedule is set, and this year, we didn't have to wait until just a few months before the season to see it.
We'll take a closer look at each Big 12 team's schedule with some analysis over the coming weeks. First up: the Baylor Bears.
Aug. 31: Wofford
Sept. 7: Buffalo
Sept. 21: Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 5: West Virginia
Oct. 12: at Kansas State
Oct. 19: Iowa State
Oct. 26: at Kansas
Nov. 7: Oklahoma
Nov. 16: vs. Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas
Nov. 23: at Oklahoma State
Nov. 30: at TCU
Dec. 7: Texas
Non-con challenge: Louisiana-Monroe. I use the term "challenge" loosely here, but it's the closest thing Baylor should have after scheduling an FCS team and a team that went 4-8 in the MAC last season. This is the return trip for the Bears, who trekked down to the Bayou for a nationally televised Friday night game and fell behind early before rallying for a three-point victory against the WarHawks. The struggles in that game on defense and with the offense turning the ball over was a sign of things to come, but it's doubtful Monroe will just be a pushover.
Chance to impress: Oklahoma. The Sooners likely won't be the best team in the Big 12 this coming year, but they're solid, and the reason this is a chance to impress for Baylor is because of the stage in which it will take place. Expect Oklahoma to be hovering around 10 wins again, but the Bears knocked off OU for the first time in school history on a legendary night the last time they played in Waco, and nearly beat the Sooners in Norman last season. Baylor could turn a few heads with a Thursday night stage and a lot of eyes watching with the late-season matchup. It's not at all out of the question that Baylor could be undefeated and 7-0 heading into that game, too. A chance to impress, indeed. Beating rebuilding West Virginia or Kansas State teams won't impress anyone. Beating OU could be the first step to a legitimate Big 12 title run.
Gut-check game: at Kansas State. On the flip side, the early-season game at K-State will be Baylor's first time playing away from the friendly confines of the final season at Floyd Casey Stadium. Lose that game, and you can lower the expectations for the Bears in 2013 considerably. K-State is reloading, but it still has some talent and won't be an easy win with Bill Snyder on the sidelines. Baylor could gain a whole bunch of confidence with a win in Manhattan. The Wildcats will want some revenge for a blowout loss in Waco last season that ended K-State's run to the national title game.
Upset watch: at Oklahoma State, at TCU. It's tough to tell that far in advance how the Big 12 standings will really look, but Baylor will be a dangerous team and I'd be surprised if we reached the back half of November and Oklahoma State and/or TCU isn't very much a factor in the Big 12 title picture. The Bears have to go on the road to face both of those contenders, but definitely will do so with the intent and ability to go home with a huge win that might just define their season.
Final analysis: Baylor's schedule is heavily backloaded, but the Bears play one of the league's balanced schedules with four home games, four away games and one neutral site game on their schedule. This schedule definitely sets up Baylor for success early in the season with games against West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas to start conference play after three pretty easy nonconference games. It's entirely possible that Baylor could be favored in its first seven games of the season, and if the Bears ran up a 7-0 record, they'd be armed with something very, very dangerous for a difficult five-game stretch to close the year: belief.
Big 12 champs? Why not the Bears?