Big 12: Chase Keenum
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
There are several obvious games that are already noticeable that should carry an extra bit of trepidation for Big 12 teams as they prepare for the upcoming season. Even with Big 12 teams likely to be solidly favored in these games, here are five games that should come with a warning label considering the opponent and the circumstances of the game.
North Dakota State at Iowa State, Sept. 3: Craig Bohl will have the Bison fired up for their game in Ames. And he knows a little bit about beating the Cyclones, considering his history as a defensive coordinator at Nebraska.
This game has all the marking of one to worry about for the Cyclones. It's Paul Rhoads' first game as a head coach. The Bison have been tough in other road games at FCS teams in recent seasons, losing by three points at Wyoming last season, beating Minnesota and Central Michigan on the road in 2007 and losing by one point at Minnesota and beating Ball State on the road in 2006. Even with the talent disparity, this game might be closer than expected.
Rhoads should ask Colorado coach Dan Hawkins how much losing to an FCS team in your first game at a Big 12 school can ruin your first season. That 2006 opening-game loss to Montana State was a particularly bad start for Hawkins' coaching tenure there.
Houston at Oklahoma State, Sept. 12: This game is coming at a tricky time for Oklahoma State, which will be coming back for a second game after a huge emotional opener against Georgia the week before. The Cougars will have 5,000-yard passer Case Keenum along with 1,000-yard rusher Bryce Beall and 1,000-yard receiver Tyron Carrier among a group of 15 returning starters.
And not only do the Cougars return a lot of experience, but they also have a modicum of confidence against OSU. Houston led the Cowboys last season, 16-7, late in the first half before the Cowboys' offense blitzed them for four touchdowns in a span of barely 7½ minutes. If Houston can do a better job defensively this season, it could make Mike Gundy sweat against the preseason Conference USA West Division's favorites.
Kansas at UTEP, Sept. 12: The trip to the Sun Bowl might be a little more harrowing than expected for the Jayhawks.
UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe threw for 33 touchdown passes and 3,274 yards last season. The Miners also surround him with 14 other returning starters. If Vittatoe can stay protected, he might be able to singe the Jayhawks' questionable linebacking corps and perhaps win a shootout. Stranger things have happened -- particularly playing in front of what should be a sellout crowd at the Sun Bowl.
And here's a statistic to keep in mind before the game: The Jayhawks have lost their last three true nonconference road games and haven't claimed a nonconference road game since winning at Wyoming in 2003. Their trip to El Paso won't be a picnic.
Wyoming at Colorado, Sept. 19: On paper, this looks like a game the Buffaloes should easily win. But a couple of trends might prove to benefit new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, who will be playing his first road game.
Christensen was the offensive coordinator of a Missouri team that beat Colorado by a combined margin of 113-10 over the past two seasons, including a 58-0 victory last season. He won't have Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin or Chase Coffman in this game, but he still has confidence of being successful against Colorado's defense.
The Cowboys won at Tennessee last season so they aren't intimidated by hostile road environments. They have 17 starters back, including eight defensive players who will be facing Colorado's defense with some confidence after strong play late last season.
Colorado has a history of struggling as a big favorite in previous nonconference home games, winning by seven against Eastern Washington last season and losing at home to Montana State in Hawkins' first game in 2006. The signs point to this being a game where the Buffaloes potentially could struggle.
Missouri at Nevada, Sept. 25: This Friday night game will set up nicely for veteran Nevada coach Chris Ault and the Wolf Pack, who will showcase their program on national television in this game.
Nevada has the explosive Pistol offense keyed by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the returning Western Athletic Conference player of the year who will be looking to make a national name for himself with a big performance. Also back are 2008 WAC leading rusher Vai Taua and 2007 leading rusher Luke Lippincott, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the second game last year. And they'll be facing a retooled Missouri defense.
The Wolf Pack still remember a gadget pass for a touchdown by Missouri wide receiver Tommy Saunders when they were behind 45-17 midway through the third quarter of a game they eventually lost 69-17 in Columbia last season. Could revenge spur a better effort at home? It will be interesting to see if the Wolf Pack can similarly make the Tigers sweat in a game played at high altitude at Reno.
Here are 10 things to watch for in Saturday's games.
1. First-start jitters for Baylor QB Robert Griffin: The freshman played well when he entered the game early in the second quarter last week against Wake Forest. Griffin was named the starter for the Northwestern State game the next day. After thinking about it for more than a week, how will he react?
2. How will Texas' defensive line play without Lamarr Houston? The suspended defensive tackle is back home in Austin after his arrest on DWI charges following last week's game. Aaron Lewis will get the start in his place Saturday at UTEP. Pressure inside will be critical to take the heat off Texas' young secondary.
3. Improvement in Kansas' rushing game: The Jayhawks struggled against Florida International, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and producing 128 yards. They need to progress Saturday against Louisiana Tech as they prepare for next week's critical game at South Florida.
4. Texas A&M responds to last week's upset: The Aggies failed to score on eight second-half possessions last week against Arkansas State. It will be interesting to see how A&M's young offensive line grows from those struggles and how it produces against New Mexico's wild collection of blitz packages.
5. Darrell Scott: Colorado's heralded freshman running back appeared to be getting more comfortable in the latter stages of his first game against Colorado State. The Buffs should have plenty of opportunities to build his confidence against Eastern Washington.
6. Iowa State's progress: Gene Chizik hasn't forgotten his ISU debut, a 23-14 loss to Kent State. The Cyclones will again face the Golden Flashes and have the opportunity to use this game as a kind of litmus test of their growth since his arrival.
7. The Oklahoma State secondary: The Cowboys had a big game last week against Washington State, but will be stepping up in class against Houston QB Case Keenum. Look for OSU to try a variety of coverages to confuse Keenum, who passed for a career-high 392 yards and threw for five TDs last week against Southern.
8. Get out your calculators: Saturday night's battle in Reno between Nevada and Texas Tech will match two of the nation's four most prolific offensive attacks. Considering the two teams combined for 1,268 yards last week, this game might last forever.
9. Will Jeremy Maclin and William Moore play for Missouri? Both key players are listed as probable for Saturday's game against Southeast Missouri State. But considering the wide talent gap, it might be wise for Gary Pinkel to allow both key players extra time to recuperate. They shouldn't be needed on Saturday.
10. Sam Bradford vs. the opportunistic Cincinnati defense: Oklahoma's talented sophomore quarterback has thrown only eight interceptions in his career and had only one game where he threw multiple picks. He will be facing a Cincinnati defense that led the nation in interceptions (26) and forced turnovers (42) last season.