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. Next up: the Iowa State Cyclones.
Aug. 31: Northern Iowa
Sept. 14: Iowa
Sept. 26: at Tulsa
Oct. 3: Texas (Thursday)
Oct. 12: at Texas Tech
Oct. 19: at Baylor
Oct. 26: Oklahoma State
Nov. 2: at Kansas State
Nov. 9: TCU
Nov. 16: at Oklahoma
Nov. 23: Kansas
Nov. 30: at West Virginia
Non-con challenge: Iowa. I mean, it always is, right? This rivalry is pretty heated, but sometimes gets overlooked because ISU is so far north of the Big 12's equator down south. The Hawkeyes were a bad team last season, but the Cyclones trekked to Iowa City and got an ugly, hard-earned 9-6 win in Iowa City, the first in a decade. Iowa should be very average at best yet again next season, unlikely to finish in the top half of the Big Ten. Still, can ISU make it three in a row vs. the hated Hawkeyes? With great rivalries like Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas flaming out, appreciate these games while we have them.
Eyeing revenge/Haven't we seen this episode before? at Tulsa. Iowa State dominated the second half in a solid win against the Golden Hurricane to start 2012, but ended the season with an embarrassing loss to the same squad in the Liberty Bowl on a neutral field. ISU heads to Tulsa this time to start the season and trey to avenge that bowl loss. This game could set the tone for the season, but in a brutal Big 12, ISU needs this game to make sure it can reach a bowl game.
Chance to impress: Texas. These Thursday games are huge exposure for programs, especially those who don't always get as much attention as their conference mates. Odds are good that Texas is undefeated in this game, though it must pass tests against Ole Miss and BYU to make that happen. If it does, expect the Longhorns to tote in a top 10 ranking, too. Maybe even top five. And ISU gets to showcase its stadium on national TV in a showcase. Win that game and turn plenty of heads.
Gut-check game: Kansas. If I can take a moment to forecast, I wouldn't be surprised if Iowa State's 11th game of the year is at home with a chance to clinch a bowl bid. That seems to have been the trend lately for the Cyclones, who got the job done in three of the last four years. You never know, but I'm betting there's a decent shot Iowa State takes the field on this day with five wins and a bowl game in sight. If they lose this one, it'll only get one more shot: On the road against West Virginia, who just might find itself in a similar spot.
Upset watch: TCU. TCU likes to play physical, but so does Iowa State, who won't be deterred by a slow, physical, defensive battle. That's where Iowa State loves to play. The Cyclones already routed TCU last year, but in four years, Paul Rhoads has lost just once when giving up fewer than 24 points. If it holds TCU to that number, we could see a big, big upset in Ames yet again. TCU's offense will be good, but it's not going to be able to just score at will like many of the league's offenses in Waco, Stillwater or Morgantown last season.
Final analysis: Iowa State has a balanced schedule with tough challenges and winnable games dispersed throughout, and not really stacked. The toughest stretch may be back to back games on the road against Texas Tech and Baylor, two solid teams from down south who'll be difficult wins for anybody next year. Reaching a bowl game again won't be easy with five Big 12 games on the road this season and another trip to begin the year against a Tulsa team that showed how good it can be last season.