NCF Nation: Craig Bohl
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Iowa State 31, North Dakota State 17 (Thursday): The Paul Rhoads era begins Thursday in Ames against a tricky opponent in the Bison, who are 3-2 in their last five games against FBS opponents -- including a victory at Minnesota in 2007. They’ll challenge a young Iowa State team struggling to find its identity on defense. But even with those uncertainties, Craig Bohl’s team likely won’t have enough offense to stick with Austen Arnaud and Co. in their first game running Tom Herman’s no-huddle defense.
Baylor 31, Wake Forest 28: The Bears learned their lesson last season in Waco, falling into an early 17-0 deficit before losing a 41-13 blowout. Art Briles decided not to start Robert Griffin in that game, but he’s been in the Bears’ starting lineup ever since. The key will be the performance of new Baylor tackles Danny Watkins and Phillip Blake, who will protect Griffin from Wake Forest’s pass rush. Wake Forest starting defensive ends Tristan Dorty and Kyle Wilber have accounted for only seven career starts and will be outweighed by more than 50 pounds per man by the Baylor tackles. The Bears rushed for at least 200 yards in four of the last five games last season. If they can maintain that balance with Griffin’s passing on Saturday, they can steal an upset victory.
Oklahoma State 34, Georgia 31: Mike Gundy’s team comes into this game with more hype than any Oklahoma State team in history with the highest national ranking to start the season. The Cowboys will face a couple of potentially troubling personnel losses after starting tight end Jamal Mosley (quit team) and starting middle linebacker Orie Lemon (season-ending knee injury) were lost earlier this week. The Cowboys won’t be facing a team unaccustomed to road success as Mark Richt’s team is an incredible 30-4 on the road, including a 5-2 road record against top 10 teams. The Bulldogs will be a physical challenge and hammer away at the Oklahoma State defense that struggled late last season. But I’m expecting the Oklahoma State offensive triplets to prove too much for Georgia in a shootout.
Illinois 35, Missouri 31: The Illini are looking to turn the tables after losing four straight against the Tigers in the annual Arch Rivalry since it returned to St. Louis in 2002. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert will make his first career start, only a few long touchdowns passes from his old high school in the St. Louis area. Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has played big against the Illini in previous seasons with two interceptions last season. He’s promised to “squeeze the pulp” out of Illinois quarterback Juice Williams again this season. But in the end, Williams’ experience and play-making abilities will prove to be a little much for the Tigers to overcome.
Nebraska 45, Florida Atlantic 17: Zac Lee makes his first career start as the Cornhuskers attempt to build on momentum that saw them finish with a four-game winning streak, punctuating that with a Gator Bowl victory over Clemson. It will be important for the Cornhuskers to get a lot of work for an inexperienced set of running backs that features only two players -- Roy Helu Jr. and Marcus Mendoza -- with previous college experience. The Cornhuskers will face old rival Howard Schnellenberger, who claimed a memorable national championship while at Miami by beating them in the 1984 Orange Bowl. The Owls are coming off a victory over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. Quarterback Rusty Smith was the MVP of that game and comes into the contest as the Sun Belt Conference’s leading career passer. But look for Nebraska’s talented defensive front to repeatedly pressure him and set the tone for the victory.
Oklahoma 48, BYU 20: The Sooners and Cougars christen the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium in Arlington, Texas, in its first college football game. Both teams are alike on offense as they have standout quarterbacks and tight ends and rebuilt offensive lines that are question marks coming into the game. Look for Oklahoma’s dominance along the defensive front to be the difference in this game, helping to extend BYU’s losing streak of 12 games to ranked nonconference opponents. BYU quarterback Max Hall struggled against better opponents last season and will be flummoxed by Oklahoma’s veteran defense that returns nine starters from last season.
Texas A&M 28, New Mexico 17: Mike Sherman and the Aggies will be looking for a better start than last season, when they dropped a season-opening loss to Arkansas State that deflated much of his momentum in starting the program. Look for the Aggies to play better Saturday with improved play in the trenches after their struggles last season. A&M running backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael should be primed to dictate the pace.
Texas 51, Louisiana-Monroe 7: The Longhorns start off a pillow-soft nonconference schedule and shouldn’t face much of a challenge from the War Hawks, who finished 4-8 last season and were picked to finish seventh in the Sun Belt this season. Colt McCoy returns for his fourth season as starter and the Longhorns’ offense should prove multiple problems for the smaller Louisiana-Monroe team. Watch for Texas to try to feature Vondrell McGee as it hopes to give him a chance to grow into a comfortable role in the offense. The Longhorns have won their last nine openers by a margin of 43 points. This one should be right in that range.
Kansas 55, Northern Colorado 10: Mark Mangino’s team comes in with more hype about a potential Big 12 North title than in any previous season in school history. The Jayhawks shouldn’t be challenged much by a Northern Colorado team that was 1-10 last season and has lost its last two openers to FBS schools by an average of 44.5 points per game. Look for Todd Reesing and an explosive set of Kansas wide receivers to have a huge night against the outmanned Bears.
Texas Tech 56, North Dakota 10: It’s a name the margin game for the Red Raiders, who will be trying to build the confidence of a developing offense keyed by new quarterback Taylor Potts. Mike Leach has won six straight openers, scoring an average of 45.7 points per game. I’m expecting a big offensive showing by a group intent on showing it still has firepower even after Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are gone.
Kansas State 31, Massachusetts 14: It’s reunion weekend as Bill Snyder returns to the sideline to begin his second tour of duty after a three-season sabbatical. Carson Coffman will get the nod at quarterback and celebrated junior college transfer Daniel Thomas gets the start at running back. The Minutemen hope for better luck than their last game against a Big 12 team when they were blown out at Texas Tech last season. Look for them to stay closer, but they'll be facing too much emotion for them to overcome in Manhattan with Snyder’s return.
Colorado 24, Colorado State 14 (Sunday): Dan Hawkins plans to wait until game day to name his starter. It shouldn’t matter if the Buffaloes’ running attack plays to its level against a CSU defensive front that allowed 190 rushing yards last season and returns only one starter. Colorado State is inexperienced at quarterback and the Buffaloes should prevail -- no matter who is their quarterback.
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. 5: 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.