Let's take a closer look at the schedule for the Big 12's biggest brand and a team looking to turn the corner in 2013: The Texas Longhorns.
Aug. 31: vs. New Mexico State
Sept. 7: at BYU
Sept. 14: vs. Ole Miss
Sept. 21: vs. Kansas State
Oct. 3: at Iowa State (Thursday)
Oct. 12: vs. Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
Oct. 26: at TCU
Nov. 2: vs. Kansas
Nov. 9: at West Virginia
Nov. 16: vs. Oklahoma State
Nov. 28: vs. Texas Tech (Thursday)
Dec. 7: at Baylor
Non-con challenge: at BYU. The Cougars narrowly edge out a growing Ole Miss program, but going on the road this early in the season is always a scary proposition. BYU's defense was stout last season and will want to keep this game low-scoring and ugly. Defending Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill will be an early test for Texas' run defense and discipline. It feels odd to say, but considering the importance of this season for the Longhorns as an experienced team built for a run but with other programs in state growing, this feels like a bit of a must-win if Texas wants to regain its status as the best team in the state and a Big 12 power. It could make up for an early loss later in the season, but a loss in Provo is more likely a sign of things to come.
Gut-check game: Kansas State. On paper, there is zero reason Kansas State should win this game. The Longhorns will have been well-tested and return more starters than any team in the Big 12 from a nine-win team a year ago. They know their identity and know the importance of the season while Kansas State is rebuilding with just eight starters returning from last year's Big 12 title team. However, this is Kansas State we're talking about, whose odd mastery of the Longhorns (7-2 all-time vs. Texas in Big 12 play) is one of the league's great mysteries. K-State won the Big 12 at Texas' expense in last year's regular-season finale.
Chance to impress: Oklahoma. Oklahoma's not the best team in the Big 12, but the memory of ugly, ugly losses in Dallas will be fresh when Texas arrives at the Cotton Bowl, and this should be the biggest test of the season to date on a big stage for the Longhorns, who could very well be in the top five and 5-0 entering the annual rivalry game. A win against the Sooners would validate that start and validate Texas' status as a major contender for the Big 12 title.
Upset watch: at West Virginia. West Virginia will have figured out a whole lot offensively by the middle of November, when this game is slated to be played. The Big 12 is a deep league and WVU may be playing to keep its postseason hopes alive at this point in the season. WVU will definitely be more able to put up some points by this point in the year, and going on the road to a difficult atmosphere with plenty of pressure is always dangerous.
Eyeing revenge: at TCU. The Frogs delivered the most difficult and frustrating loss of Texas' season last year, and effectively eliminated the Longhorns from Big 12 title contention with a Thanksgiving night win in Austin. Texas will probably have to go through Fort Worth to win its first Big 12 title since 2009, but the good news is the Frogs didn't win a single Big 12 game at home last season.
Final analysis: I always think it's a good idea with a nine-game conference schedule to play a neutral site game so you never have to go on the road five times in a season, and that's what Texas does, though it's done that for a long time with the Red River tradition. All things considered, this is a very balanced schedule for the Longhorns, who play one Big 12 contender (Oklahoma State) at home, one on the road (TCU) and Oklahoma on a neutral site. The toughest matchups of the year don't ever come in back-to-back weeks, and less-heralded opponents break them up. Texas' schedule doesn't have any hugely notable stretches that will decide the season, but those big games will decide whether Texas is really "back."