By Shehan Jeyarajah
Texas Tech at SMU
The Kliff Kingsburg era begins for Texas Tech in Dallas on Friday night. The former Texas A&M offensive coordinator starts his term on a bad note, as expected starting quarterback Michael Brewer inured his back. In his place, Kingsburg will be forced to play a true freshman at starting quarterback. He has not yet named a starter.
On the other side, SMU returns much of its roster after a surprising beat-down of heavily favored Fresno State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Contrary to Tech’s giant question mark at quarterback, SMU returns senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert, a former consensus five-star recruit.
Tech is still favored in this game, but there is certainly cause for concern in Lubbock, especially playing a team who only lost to Texas A&M and TCU at home last season.
Kansas State vs. North Dakota State
Kansas State comes into this game having lost do-it-all quarterback and 2012 Heisman-hopeful Collin Klein. Instead, they will start junior college transfer and incoming junior Jake Waters. They also only return two starters on the defensive side of the ball.
North Dakota State may be a I-AA school, but they are the two-time defending FCS National Champions. The Bisons went 14-1 last season, including beating Division I Colorado State 22-7 on the road.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is one of the best in the business, but Kansas State may be given all they can handle in their season opener.
West Virginia vs. William & Mary
West Virginia lost their three best offensive players to the NFL in quarterback Geno Smith, and wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Head coach Dana Holgerson hopes to replace their production with a variety of transfers. At quarterback, they expect to start Clint Trickett, a Florida State transfer. Their leading rusher from last season, Andrew Buie, will also redshirt this season in favor of Houston transfer Charles Sims.
Their problems shouldn’t catch up to them quite yet, as they play woeful William & Mary in their first game. The tribe last season went 2-9 in Division I-AA play. They finished ninth in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Even if West Virginia struggles, they should handle a lackluster William & Mary team.
#13 Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi State
Oklahoma State has consistently been one of the most high-powered offenses in all of college football. Last season, they ranked seventh in passing yards, third in points per game and fourth in total offense. The Cowboys return top receiver Josh Stewart, who had 1200 yards receiving in 2012. There is a question mark at quarterback, but that is because there are truly two guys that could start on a majority of teams in the Big 12.
They will be tested this week against SEC foe Mississippi State. MSU has a tough front seven on the defensive side of the ball and also has enough offensive talent to keep things interesting. OSU will likely take advantage of the inexperience in the secondary, as Mississippi State lost Thorpe Award winner Johnathan Banks.
Oklahoma State has the offensive firepower to beat any team, but the question mark will be if their defense will step up. However, Mississippi State likely does not have the offensive potential to match Oklahoma State.
#16 Oklahoma vs. Louisiana-Monroe
When we last saw Oklahoma, they were leaving the field after being destroyed by Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, 41-13. Oklahoma lost over half of their starters, including four-year starting quarterback Landry Jones, and the top two receiving targets on the team. This game will be the collegiate debut of redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight.
Louisiana-Monroe is coming off of their first ever bowl game, even though it was a blowout by the hands of Ohio in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl. Last season in nonconference play, ULM beat Arkansas, pushed Auburn to overtime and came within five points of beating Baylor.
Though ULM has a history of coming up big against quality teams, Oklahoma should take care of business in Norman.
Baylor vs. Wofford
The 2012 season for Baylor ended with a 5-1 run, including three wins over ranked opponents. The key to the success was the emergence of junior running back Lache Seastrunk and senior running back Glasco Martin. The two backs combined for 1409 yards and 15 touchdowns in merely six games. The Bears look to bring back a revamped defense and debut junior quarterback Bryce Petty to lead a high-powered offense.
Wofford finished second in Division I-AA’s Southern Conference. They look to replace running back Eric Breitenstein, one of Wofford’s all-time greats.
Wofford didn’t disappear against South Carolina when they played them last year, so this won’t be as much of a cakewalk as some may think. Baylor should still be decided favorites to win.
Iowa State vs. Northern Iowa
Iowa State may have finished as the second worst team in the Big 12, but that says much more about the strength of the Big 12 than the weakness of Iowa State. Despite a ninth place finish in the Big 12, the Cyclones managed to make it to the Autozone Liberty Bowl. This season, they lose a great deal of experience on both sides of the ball.
Unlike powerhouse I-AA team North Dakota State, Northern Iowa was a decidedly mediocre team, even in the Missouri Valley Conference. They finished their season a paltry 5-6. Their saving grace is that they put some pressure on a ranked Wisconsin team last season in a loss.
Iowa State may be worse this year, but they still should still coast by Northern Iowa.
#15 Texas vs. New Mexico State
The Longhorns come in to a season of expectations after three straight mediocre seasons since Colt McCoy left. Junior quarterback David Ash is coming off of a middling 2012 season. The defense will look to regroup after losing safety Kenny Vaccaro and defensive end Alex Okafor to the NFL. The beacon of hope for Texas is the running game, where they return sophomore Johnathan Gray and junior Joe Bergeron, who combined for over 1,200 yards last season. Another year of development could have them among the best running back duos in the Big 12.
This year is a transitionary period for New Mexico State, as the Western Athletic Conference opted to no longer be a football conference. Next season, NMSU will join the Sun Belt Conference for football. Last season, the Aggies went 1-11, including 0-6 in the WAC.
We know that Big 12 teams have every motivation to beat up on Aggies; Texas should cruise to victory.
No. 20 TCU vs. No. 12 LSU
This game is undoubtedly the one to watch in the Big 12 this weekend. TCU comes into this game off a disappointing season, but will return senior quarterback Casey Pachall, who served a suspension last season for a DWI. The Horned Frogs may play in the offensive-oriented Big 12, but they are still a team that can play defense at a high level.
LSU is always a tough team to play, especially during the first week of the season. They have been characterized by their tough SEC defense. The coaching staff gained a crucial addition when former Miami Dolphins coach Cam Cameron signed on to be their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. LSU returns their top passer, rusher and receiver from last season, so they could easily be a vastly improved offense.
This game is gearing up to be a premiere matchup in college football’s opening weekend with either team having a solid chance to come away with a win the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium.