The mental countdown clock has been ticking for the last eight to nine months.
Kansas hired Turner Gill to be its new football coach on Dec. 13. Tommy Tuberville was hired at Texas on Jan. 10. Since then, both coaches have moved, assembled new staffs, recruited, welcomed a recruiting class, made speeches, held spring practice, made more speeches and conducted preseason practice starting in August.
All of that leads up to the opening game, a game that has been constantly percolating in the back of their minds since they took their new jobs.
“We get an opportunity to see where our football team is at,” Gill said of his team’s seasn opener Saturday against North Dakota State. “You can only find out so much when you’re practicing against yourselves. You can learn from practice but you don’t get the detail you need until you play a game.
“Our staff, our players, we’re all ready to play a football game.”
Both Gill and Tuberville inherited situations that required a deft touch. Gill replaced Mark Mangino. The Jayhawks imploded last season and lost their last seven games after a 5-0 start. Tuberville took over for Mike Leach, one of the most successful coaches in Texas Tech history. How messy was Leach’s departure? It’s now a court case.
Game Week has allowed both Gill and Tuberville to settle in to what they hope will be familiar patter of preparation.
“We need to play a game like everybody else, we’ve been practicing a long time,” Tuberville said. “The good thing about our situation is that it’s our first year here. There’s a lot of different things we’re going through as a team.
“The players have spent this week trying to understand what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it – practices, meetings, meals. We’re teaching the players what we expect. I’m anxious to get into a routine.”
Both Gill and Tuberville have been through this before. Gill’s first head coaching job was at Buffalo while Tuberville has been a head coach at Ole Miss and Auburn. Each one has had the gestation period between hiring date and opening game where the days were short and the work load was heavy.
After all the time spot getting to this point, now comes the “easy” part – playing (at least) a 12-game schedule.
Missouri vs. Illinois
Need to know: 11:30 a.m. CT, Edward Jones Dome, FSN.
Records (2009): Missouri 8-5, Illinois 3-9.
Scouting Missouri: The Tigers will be without senior running back Derrick Washington, the team’s leading rusher the last two seasons. He’s been permanently suspended because of an off-field issue. Junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert will have to be accurate productive if Missouri’s running game struggles. The offense, after losing its top two receivers from last year, needs to find some consistent pass catchers.
Scouting Illinois: Coach Ron Zook re-made his staff with new coordinators Paul Petrino (offense) and Vic Koenning (defense). The Illini will start redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase, a Kansas City native from Rockhurst, at quarterback. The defense will be missing two starters - cornerback Terry Hawthorne and strong safety Supo Sanni. Facing a quarterback like Gabbert without two starters in the secondary could be a problem.
This and that: Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning held the same position at Kansas State. … The Illini generated scant pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season; they totaled just 19 sacks in 12 games. … This will be the end of the Arch Rivlary series; no future game contracts exist between the schools. The teams have opened their seasons playing each other five times since 2002 and Missouri has won all five games.
Colorado vs. Colorado State
Need to know: 1 p.m. CT, Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, The Mtn.
Records (2009): Colorado 3-9, Colorado State 3-9.
Scouting Colorado: The Buffs will start junior Tyler Hansen at quarterback. He has played each of the last two seasons but this is the first time he’ll play in a nonconference game. Colorado has added a big-play weapon at wide receiver in Michigan transfer Toney Clemons. If the offensive line improves its play, the Buffs should have a nice mix of running and passing.
Scouting Colorado State: The Rams will start freshman Pete Thomas at quarterback. He’s 6-5 and a pro-style passer. However, he might have a tough time finding open receivers against a talented Colorado secondary. Colorado State’s pass defense had serious problems last season and it didn’t have much success generating a pass rush (24 sacks in 12 games).
This and that: Seven of the last 10 games in this rivalry has been decided by a touchdown or less. The Rams won last year, 23-17. … Colorado State enters the game with a nine-game losing streak. … Colorado senior wide receiver has a school-record streak of 36 consecutive games with at last one reception.
UCLA at Kansas State
Need to know: 2:30 p.m. CT, Bill Snyder Family Stadium, ABC.
Records (2009): UCLA 7-6, Kansas State 6-6.
Scouting UCLA: The status of Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince is uncertain. He has battled injuries his entire career and his practices have been limited by a back injury. Wide receivers Tyler Embree and Nelson Rosario along with running back Johnathan Franklin are the top offensive weapons.
Scouting Kansas State: Senior Carson Coffman has won the starting quarterback job. He started the first four games last season before being replaced. The Wildcats need to find new receiving targets but transfers Chris Harper (Oregon) and Brodrick Smith (Minnesota) are expected to step in. Senior running back Daniel Thomas led the Big 12 in rushing last season.
This and that: With Bill Snyder as Kansas State’s coach, the Wildcats have won 17 consecutive season openers. … Kansas State has won 12 of its last 18 nonconference games. … UCLA beat the Wildcats, 23-9, in the Rose Bowl last season. … A Colorado transfer, Josh Smith, is a backup flanker for the Bruins. Another backup flanker is walkon redshirt freshman Jerry Rice, Jr. (Yeah, that Jerry Rice.)
Texas vs. Rice
Need to know: 2:30 p.m. CT, Reliant Stadium, ESPN.
Records (2009): Texas 13-1, Rice 2-10.
Scouting Texas: Sophomore Garrett Gilbert makes his first start at quarterback for the fifth-ranked Longhorns. He’ll be running more of a run-oriented attack and should take more snaps under center than in the shotgun. Cody Johnson, a 250-pound junior, will start at tailback. The defense, particularly the secondary, is expected to be outstanding.
Scouting Rice: The Owls have been dangerous on offense the past few years but their quarterback situation is unsettled. Nick Fanuzzi, an Alabama transfer who started eight games last season, is battling Taylor Cook (a transfer from Miami, Fla.) and redshirt freshman Taylor McHargue. Coach David Bailiff says he might use two QBs against Texas. Rice, though, has major issues on defense. Rice was 102nd against the run last season and will be without their best defensive player.
This and that: This will be the 92nd meeting between the former Southwest Conference foes. … The last time Texas opened the season away from Austin was 1995 when it won at Hawaii, 38-17. … Sam McGuffie, a Texas native who spent two seasons in Michigan before transferring, is a sophomore listed as the Owls’ second-team tailback.
Washington State at Oklahoma State
Need to know: 6 p.m. CT, Boone Pickens Stadium, FSN.
Records (2009): Washington State 1-11, Oklahoma State 9-4.
Scouting Washington State: Sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel started as a rookie last season and the Cougars hope he will continue to improve. Washington State’s offensive line needs to give Tuel time to throw against an Oklahoma State defense that excels at putting pressure on the quarterback.
Scouting Oklahoma State: Lots of attention will be focused on the Cowboys’ offense. Brandon Weeden, a 26-year-old junior, takes over at quarterback. He’ll be running a four-wide receiver set favored by new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. The defense will be anchored by senior linebacker Orie Lemon but needs to replace several play makers in the secondary.
This and that: Hubert Anyiam, the Cowboys’ leading receiver from last season, is still recovering from a foot injury he suffered in spring practice. … The Cougars are 3-22 over the last two seasons. … Coach Paul Wulff is in his third season as Washington State’s coach. … Oklahoma State has opened the season against a Pac-10 team four times and has won each time. … Washington State finished last in the Pac-10 in the four major offensive and defensive statistical categories.
North Dakota State at Kansas
Need to know: 6 p.m. CT, Memorial Stadium, FCS.
Records (2009): North Dakota State 3-8, Kansas 5-7.
Scouting North Dakota State: Sophomore Jose Mohler, who played well at the end of last season, won the battle to be the starter this season. The Bison favor a balanced attack but prefer to be run-oriented. The defense needs to improve its work against the pass. Both the offensive and defensive lines are shaky.
Scouting Kansas: Turner Gill makes his debut as the Jayhawks’ coach. Sophomore Kale Pick won the starting QB job and he’ll be running an offense that will emphasize the running game. Sixth-year senior Angus Quigley, who was moved to linebacker last season, returns to offense and will start at running back. The defense has gone back to an attacking 4-3 alignment. There is not much depth at linebacker.
This and that: The Bison play football in the Missouri Valley and are 3-3 since 2006 against Division I-A foes. They’re coached by Craig Bohl, a former defensive coordinator at Nebraska. … Sophomore Toben Opurum, who was the team’s leading rusher last season, has been moved to linebacker to bolster the depth at that position.
Western Kentucky at Nebraska
Need to know: 6 p.m., Memorial Stadium.
Records (2009): Western Kentucky 0-12, Nebraska 10-4.
Scouting Western Kentucky: Willie Taggart, a former WKU quarterback who was a Stanford assistant last season, takes over as coach. He inherits a team that was 118th in total defense and 101st in total offense. There are 19 starters returning. The Hilltoppers’ best offensive player is junior running back Bobby Rainey.
Scouting Nebraska: The suspense for the eighth-ranked Huskers is who will be the starting quarterback. Coach Bo Pelini says the word probably won’t come until game day. Senior Zac Lee, sophomore Cody Green and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez have been battling for the job. If the scoreboard gets lopsided, all three might play.
This and that: The Hilltoppers are members of the Sun Belt Conference and have been a Division I-A team for two seasons. … Western Kentucky’s 20-game losing streak is the longest in the nation. … WKU’s last victory over a Division I-A team came in 2007. … In 2009, the Huskers led the nation in scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and red-zone defense; ranked second in sacks, seventh in total defense and ninth against the run.
Utah State at Oklahoma
Need to know: 6 p.m., Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Records (2009): Utah State 4-8, Oklahoma 8-5.
Scouting Utah State: Quarterback Diondre Borel was 15th in the nation in total offense last season but the Aggies are without their leading rusher and top receiver. Utah State finished 24th nationally in turnover margin and will hope that its defense can produce some game-changing plays.
Scouting Oklahoma: There will be a lot of attention focused on the seventh-ranked Sooners’ offensive line, which last year imploded due to injuries. If that unit returns to form, Oklahoma has the pieces in place to have an explosive offense. The defense might be without two veterans on the defensive front – tackle Adrian Taylor and end Frank Alexander.
This and that: OU coach Bob Stoops named Patrick O’Hara the team’s kicker. O’Hara, who made 6-of-9 field goal attempts and all 15 of his extra point tries won out over three other competitors. … The Sooners have won their last three home openers by the total score of 200-12. … Gary Andersen is in his second season as Utah State’s coach. … The Aggies played at Oklahoma in 2007 and lost 54-3.
Sam Houston State at Baylor
Need to know: 6 p.m., Floyd Casey Stadium.
Records (2009): Sam Houston State 5-6, Baylor 4-8.
Scouting Sam Houston State: Willie Fritz will make his coaching debut for the Bearkats, who play in Division I-AA. Senior Bryan Randolph takes over at quarterback. He was the backup the last two seasons for Rhett Bomar, who started his career at Oklahoma. Sam Houston State has 28 freshmen and sophomores and just six seniors on its two-deep roster.
Scouting Baylor: The Bears welcome the return of Robert Griffin, who went down in the third game of 2009 with a season-ending knee injury. The sophomore quarterback is being counted on to juice an offense that averaged 20.8 points a game last season. Baylor’s defense needs to replace the play making and leadership of linebacker Joe Pawelek and safety Jordan Lake.
This and that: The schools are separated by just 135 miles but this is just the third time they’ve played in football. … Each school lists 187 players on their combined rosters; 162 of those players are from the state of Texas. … Baylor will try to win its first home opener under coach Art Briles.
Stephen F. Austin at Texas A&M
Need to know: 6 p.m., Kyle Field.
Records (2009): Stephen F. Austin 10-3, Texas A&M 6-7.
Scouting Stephen F. Austin: Quarterback Jeremy Moses was outstanding last season, completing 68% of his throws for 4,124 yards and 40 touchdowns. The Lumberjacks scored 92 on Texas College last season. Linebacker Jabari Williams is one of the best division in Division I-AA and he led the team with 113 tackles in 2009.
Scouting Texas A&M: The Aggies return most of the firepower that helped them finish fifth nationally in total offense. However, three starters on the offensive line must be replaced – and one of the new guys is freshman left tackle Luke Joeckel. A&M’s defense also will be under the microscope as new coordinator Tim DeRuyter installs his attacking 3-4 alignment.
This and that: Based on several preseason rankings, the Lumberjacks are a top 10 team in Division I-AA. They are defending Southland Conference champions. … SFA head coach J.C. Harper was a graduate assistant under Mack Brown at North Carolina followed by two years as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz. … This is the first time since 1935 that A&M has played the Lumberjacks.
SMU at Texas Tech
Need to know: 2:30 p.m., AT&T Jones Stadium, ESPN.
Records (2009): SMU 8-5, Texas Tech 9-4.
Scouting SMU: The Mustangs played in a bowl game for the first time since 1984 last season in their second year under coach June Jones. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron has become adept at running Jones’ run-and-shoot offense. Aldrick Robinson is one of several wide receivers who can make plays.
Scouting Texas Tech: Senior Taylor Potts won the starting job. He has plenty of weapons and options in the passing game. Senior running back Baron Batch should get plenty of carries as new coach Tommy Tuberville wants to make sure the Red Raiders establish the running game. Expect Texas Tech’s defense to be aggressive all over the field. With SMU a pass-oriented team, the Red Raiders could be in blitz mode.
This and that: This game matches teams from the old Southwest Conference. The Red Raiders and the Mustangs have played 47 times with Texas Tech holding a 31-16 edge. … Texas Tech offensive lineman Mickey Okafor has been sidelined with a concussion and it’s doubtful he’ll play against SMU. … Quarterback Taylor Potts has changed numbers from 15 to 12 (the number he wore in high school.