By Wendell Barnhouse
Two Big 12 teams open the 2014 season trying to prove the adage "if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."
For the first time in Conference history, the Big 12 will face the nation's top two ranked teams in the same week. Oklahoma State faces No. 1 and defending national champion Florida State while West Virginia will take on No. 2 Alabama.
And just to add to the league's challenge on the first weekend, Iowa State's opener in Ames will be against North Dakota State, which was won the last three FCS national championships.
The Cowboys take on the Seminoles in the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Oklahoma State is coming off a 10-3 season but needs to replace a number of starters on both sides of the ball. Coach Mike Gundy said that his team will probably have 20 players who will playing in their first game at this level.
"I think there's some really talented players on this team that just don't have experience," Gundy said. "Until you get out there and do it, you don't really know what to expect."
The Mountaineers went 4-8 last season, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2001. They'll be in Atlanta's Georgia Dome to face the Crimson Tide.
"Alabama is a storied program, but so is Oklahoma," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said before mentioning the challenges his team faces in the Big 12. "Let's face it, every game we play is big, so I don't think our guys will be very intimidated by it. Our guys will be ready to play. They'll go in there and they'll be excited about the opportunity."
(All Times CST)
North Dakota State at Iowa State
Need to know: Jack Trice Stadium, 11 a.m., FS1.
Records (2013): North Dakota State 15-0, Iowa State 3-9.
Scouting North Dakota State: Chris Klieman is the Bison's new coach, replacing Craig Bohl who is the new coach at Wyoming. Under Bohl, North Dakota State has won the last three FCS national championships. The Bison return running back John Crockett (1,277 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns, 6.7 yards per carry) and leading receiver Zach Vraa but are replacing starting quarterback Brock Jensen and four offensive linemen.
Scouting Iowa State: The Cyclones are hoping that junior quarterback Sam Richardson can spark an attack that features new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, the former coach at Kansas. Iowa State has to replace its play makers on defense and will have an inexperienced secondary.
This and that: Last season, the Bison opened their undefeated season by winning at Kansas State. … North Dakota State has won the last three FCS national titles and 24 consecutive games. … The Cyclones' first five opponents were a combined 52-15 last season. … Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa, like this year's opponent an FCS team, in last year's season opener.
West Virginia vs. Alabama
Need to know: 2:30 p.m., Georgia Dome, ABC/ESPN.
Records (2013): Alabama 11-2, West Virginia 4-8.
Scouting West Virginia: The Mountaineers will look to senior quarterback Clint Trickett to improve an offense that struggled last season. West Virginia has solid offensive line with plenty of talent at running back and wide receiver. The defense, which allowed 33.3 points a game last season, has more experience and speed in the secondary but needs improvement in the pass rush. The WVU defense will be without starting cornerback Ishmael Banks, who is suspended for the first three games because of academic issues.
Scouting Alabama: The second-ranked Crimson Tide will start either Jake Corker or Blake Sims at quarterback and both could play. Whoever is running the offense will be seeking to get the ball to All-American wide receiver Amari Cooper. Alabama will be without senior linebacker Trey DePriest, who is suspended for one game for an NCAA infraction.
This and that: Alabama's offensive coordinator is Lane Kiffin, the former head coach at Tennessee and USC. … Coker transferred from Florida State. … These teams are facing off for the first time. … West Virginia finished 4-8 last season, its first losing season since going 3-8 in 2001.
Stephen F. Austin at Kansas State
Need to know: 6 p.m., Bill Snyder Family Stadium, K-StateHD.TV
Records (2013): Stephen F. Austin 3-9, Kansas State 8-5.
Scouting Stephen F. Austin: Sophomore quarterback Zack Conque, a transfer from UTSA, is expected to be the Lumberjacks' starting quarterback. He's the son of Clint Conque, who is in his first season as Stephen F. Austin's coach. Running back Gus Johnson gained 1,061 yards and had 11 TDs last season. The defense was porous, allowing 49 points and 528 yards per game.
Scouting Kansas State: The 20th-ranked Wildcats will rely on quarterback Jake Waters and wide receiver Tyler Lockett, one of the best pass-catch duos in college football. The Wildcats are missing three-year staring running back John Hubert; the top three backs on the depth chart have combined for 11 carries and 55 yards in their careers. The defense is led by senior defensive end Ryan Mueller, who excels in rushing the quarterback.
This and that: SFA kicker Jordan Wiggs has been All-Southland Conference the last three seasons and needs 34 points to become the school's career scoring leader. … Stephen F. Austin was second in the FCS in total yards with 571.6 per game last season. … Since 1990, Kansas State has won 23 of their last 24 season openers.
Samford at TCU
Need to know: 6 p.m., Amon Carter Stadium, FOX Regional.
Records (2013): Samford 8-5, TCU 4-8.
Scouting Samford: The Bulldogs will have a new quarterback in Michael Eubank, who transferred from Arizona State. He's the only quarterback on the roster with a pass attempt in college football. Wide receiver Karel Hamilton (38 receptions, 657 yards, seven touchdowns) is the top returning wide receiver. Samford returns eight starters on defense with senior safety Jaquiski Tartt the leader of the secondary.
Scouting TCU: The Horned Frogs made a major change in their offense but both Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel could see action at quarterback. TCU wants an improved pass attack plus a faster pace. Running the ball might be prudent against Samford, which allowed 196 yards per game rushing.
This and that: Samford coach Pat Sullivan, the former TCU coach (1992-97), won't be able to coach the game. He had surgery recently and his doctors advised him not to travel. … The Bulldogs earned a share of the Southern Conference title last season and reached the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1992. … Joeckel is a transfer from Texas A&M who has one year of eligibility remaining.
Central Arkansas at Texas Tech
Need to know: 6 p.m., Jones AT&T Stadium, FOX Regional.
Records (2013): Central Arkansas 7-5, Texas Tech 8-5.
Scouting Central Arkansas: The Bears, an FCS team, finished 7-5 last season and have 10 returning starters to an offensive unit that averaged 453 yards per game. Senior wide receiver Dezmin Lewis led the team with 50 catches for 721 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Central Arkansas' defense tries to force turnovers and the team was plus-10 in that category last season.
Scouting Texas Tech: Sophomore quarterback Davis Webb finished last season with 2,718 yards, 20 TDs and nine interceptions. He's poised to have a big season. The Red Raiders must replace last season's top two receivers and leading rusher Kenny Williams has moved to linebacker. Texas Tech struggled with turnovers and penalties last season.
This and that: Coach Steve Campbell makes his debut with Central Arkansas after 10 seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He won the 2000 D-II national championship with Delta State. … The Bears led Colorado 24-17 last year in the fourth quarter before losing. … Since 2000, Texas Tech has averaged 40.6 points in its season openers.
Louisiana Tech at Oklahoma
Need to know: 6 p.m., Gaylord Family/Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, PPV.
Records (2013): Louisiana Tech 4-8, Oklahoma 11-2.
Scouting Louisiana Tech: Cody Sokol, a fifth-year transfer from Iowa, will start at quarterback for the Bulldogs, who are coached by Skip Holtz. He's in his second season. Louisiana Tech has 12 starters returning from a team that finished 4-8 last season. Junior running back Kenneth Dixon is the top offensive player returning. Last season he gained 917 yards while battling injuries.
Scouting Oklahoma: The fourth-ranked Sooners hope to open a season that ends in the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight will try to build off an outstanding performance in the Sugar Bowl but is working with an offense that needs to find starters at running back, receiver and the offensive line. OU's defense should be one of the best in the nation.
This and that: Louisiana Tech's defensive coordinator is Manny Diaz. He held the same position at Texas last season before being fired after the second game. … The OU game is the first of three games in 13 days for Louisiana Tech. … OU senior Blake Bell, who started eight games at quarterback, has switched positions and will start at tight end.
Oklahoma State vs. Florida State
Need to know: 7 p.m., AT&T Stadium, ABC.
Records (2013): Oklahoma State 11-3, Florida State 14-0.
Scouting Oklahoma State: Coach Mike Gundy announced that junior J.W. Walsh will be the starting quarterback but don't be surprised if junior Daxx Garman also gets some snaps. The Cowboys QBs will need to get the ball to Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year Tyreek Hill, who should be the fastest player on the field. Oklahoma State's defense will be breaking in seven new starters.
Scouting Florida State: The defending national champions have won 16 consecutive games. Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston is trying to become just the second player to win the award twice. Running back Karlos Williams averaged eight yards per carry last season and will operate behind a veteran offensive line. The Seminoles led the nation in pass defense last season and had a school-record 26 interceptions.
This and that: The Seminoles set an FBS record with 723 points last season. … Oklahoma State has won its past six season openers, is 15-2 in nonconference games and 11-2 in games in Texas. … The Cowboys have scored 20 points or more in 52 consecutive games.
North Texas at Texas
Need to know: 7 p.m., Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, LHN.
Records (2013): North Texas 9-4, Texas 8-5.
Scouting North Texas: Josh Greer, a Navarro Junior College transfer who joined UNT at the semester break, was named the Mean Green's starting quarterback on Monday. He earned the job in a competition with veteran backup Andrew McNulty. North Texas has just 10 starters returning from last season's 9-4 team. Dan McCarney, the former Iowa State coach, goes into his fourth season with the Mean Green.
Scouting Texas: Charlie Strong makes his Texas coaching debut. The Longhorns figure to rely on a running game led by Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray plus a talented, veteran defense. Junior quarterback David Ash will need to stay healthy for the offense to be productive. Keep an eye on the kicking game – both the kicker and the punter are new.
This and that: North Texas led FBS last season with eight blocked kicks (four punts). … The Mean Green has lost its last nine games against Big 12 teams. … In the season opener last season against New Mexico State, David Ash had 434 total yards (343 passing, 91 rushing).
SMU at Baylor
Need to know: 6:30 p.m., McLane Stadium, FS1.
Records (2013): SMU 5-7, Baylor 11-2.
Scouting SMU: The Mustangs are coming off a 5-7 season that kept them from a bowl game for the first time in five seasons. Sophomore Neal Burcham takes over for quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who was productive at SMU after transferring from Texas. Junior receiver Darius Joseph had 103 catches for 808 yards and five touchdowns last season. The Mustangs have seven starters returning on defense.
Scouting Baylor: Bears senior quarterback Bryce Petty will try to improve on last season's outstanding numbers (4,200 yards passing, 32 TDs, three interceptions). He has a number of weapons in his arsenal – receivers Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood plus running backs Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin. The defense must replace seven starters but has a talented and deep front four.
This and that: SMU was minus-10 in turnover margin last season, tied for 101st in FBS. Baylor was plus-13, which was tied for eighth. The series is tied a 36-36-7 but Baylor has won the last 10 meetings. … Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is scheduled to attend and take part in a pregame ceremony that will unveil a statue in his honor.