Forget statement games, Big 12 coaches seem content with easy openers for winning starts

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops knows all too well the risks of starting a season against another powerhouse team.

Just picture Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford writhing in pain with a shoulder injury in the first half of the Sooners' season-opening loss to BYU last September.

"It's only good if you win and you don't get your quarterback hurt," Stoops said Monday. "It's high risk, and I think fairly low reward. ... You're not really rewarded for it as much as you used to be for playing a tough schedule. Pretty much everybody gets ranked in the column depending on wins and losses."

The seventh-ranked Sooners have a much easier opener this year. They are more than a four-touchdown favorite to beat Utah State at home Saturday.

Every Big 12 team is favored to win its opener, with lopsided scores also expected from No. 5 Texas against Rice and eighth-ranked Nebraska over Western Kentucky, which has lost an NCAA-high 20 games in a row.

Kansas State is even a slight favorite at home over UCLA, which beat the Wildcats 23-9 last season in Los Angeles.

Wildcats coach Bill Snyder would prefer to play somebody else.

"I'm not a big fan of playing a nationally prominent program in the early stages. The conference schedule is tough enough," Snyder said during the Big 12 coaches' conference call. "Our preference is to open up with a schedule that you can build into your conference. ... When the conference schedule begins, it's going to be eight weeks of very, very, very competitive football."

There are season-opening rivalry games at neutral sites for Missouri against Illinois in St. Louis and Colorado against Colorado State in Denver. But the Tigers and Buffaloes are both double-digit favorites.

Texas A&M (vs. Stephen F. Austin) and Baylor (vs. Sam Houston State) open against FCS teams while Turner Gill makes his Kansas debut at home against North Dakota State, a lower-division team that went 3-8 last season.

"We're not concerned about who is the name of the opponent," Gill said. 'It really doesn't matter who the opponent is from our standpoint. We're trying to get going and get going in the right way."

Things will be more difficult for Gill and the Jayhawks in Week 2 against 16th-ranked Georgia Tech, which played in the Orange Bowl last season.

Iowa State begins its second season under coach Paul Rhoads as only a slight favorite at home Thursday night against Northern Illinois, a team filled with returning starters that is a favorite in the Mid-American Conference.

"We have a very, very challenging opener," Rhoads said. "When these schedules are done (in advance), who's to say who's going to be real good, or coming off this kind of season or that kind of season. You always play the first game as it arrives."

Oklahoma State began the 2007 season with a three-touchdown loss at Georgia. In last year's opener at Stillwater, Okla., the ninth-ranked Cowboys beat No. 13 Georgia by two touchdowns.

"Most schools that are in major conferences see a tremendous amount of competition week to week," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "When you play in these leagues, I just don't know many coaches that are fired up about playing difficult non-conference schedules. You put one more tough week on your players."

Oklahoma State has a new starting quarterback and is expected to play plenty of freshmen this season. Its opener is against Washington State, which is coming off a 1-11 season.


NOTES: There are 13 true freshmen and five redshirts on Texas' two-deep depth chart. ... Sophomore Kale Pick is the starting quarterback at Kansas, having beat out redshirt freshman Jordan Webb to replace record-setting three-year starter Todd Reesing. "Pick has set himself apart," coach Turner Gill said. "I love his intangibles, his body language and how he ran the team." ... New coach Tommy Tuberville has changed more than the plays at Texas Tech. Practice has been distinctly more physical for the Red Raiders under Tuberville. "We want them to be physical in a game so we've practiced that way," Tuberville said. "The players have picked up on it real well."


QUOTABLE: "There's a lot of difference between the whistle blowing when they get around you and the whistle not blowing until you get on the ground." — Baylor coach Art Briles on Robert Griffin, though he expects no problems for the dual-threat quarterback Saturday in his first game since a season-ending knee injury in the third game last season.