Texas A&M player to watch: Every Aggie fan is hoping quarterback Reggie McNeal gets off to a great start in 2004. McNeal went 12 of 18 passing with one touchdown in last year's head-to-head battle; one of his best games of the season.
Utah player to watch: Wide receiver Paris Warren caught 76 balls last season but did not play versus Texas A&M. Warren does a lot of dirty work in the middle of the field for the Utes to keep the chains moving.
The inside scoop: Both head coaches are beginning their second season at their respective schools. Though Urban Meyer lost his battle to Dennis Franchione in 2003, Meyer went on to a 10-2 season, national ranking and several honors. We all know what happened at A&M.
Texas A&M will win if ... it can keep the Utah offense off the field. A&M does not want to give Utes quarterback Alex Smith more opportunities than it needs to. McNeal and the A&M offense need to find ways to keep the chains moving consistently and not rely upon big plays for scores.
Utah will win if ... its defense comes back as strong as it finished last season. The Utes will score points, it's a matter of how many they'll allow.
The pick: Utah 31, Texas A&M 21
Bowling Green (0-0, 0-0 MAC) at Oklahoma (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) Saturday, Sept. 4 11:00 a.m. CDT - ABC Daily Line: Oklahoma -31.5
Bowling Green player to watch: In this case it's more like position to watch. Bowling Green will try to get its running game established early behind junior backs P.J. Pope and B.J. Lane. As a group the Eagles accumulated 2,530 yards on the ground in 2003 with Pope accounting for 1,005.
Oklahoma player to watch: While you could name several players here, the choice is Adrian Peterson. Every Sooner fan will be out of their seat in anticipation the first time he enters the game.
The inside scoop: What scoop do you need for a game Oklahoma should win easily? Bowling Green will try to establish its running game early. Once that doesn't happen, they'll be forced to pass in an attempt to catch up. The Eagles will revert back to the running game in the second half to keep the clock moving and the score down.
Bowling Green will win if ... Oklahoma decides to sit all first and second team players.
Oklahoma will win if ... it shows up. What more do you want here folks?
The pick: Oklahoma 49, Bowling Green 17 ... barely covering the spread.
Northern Iowa (0-0, 0-0 Gateway) at Iowa State (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) Saturday, Sept. 4 1:00 p.m. CDT
Northern Iowa player to watch: Quarterback Tom Petrie is back for more. Against ISU in 2003, he went 21 of 32 for 142 yards, and rushed for UNI's lone touchdown. The three-year starter would love to start his season with a win over the Cyclones.
Iowa State player to watch: While eyes will be on freshman quarterback Bret Meyer, the player to watch is sophomore running back Stevie Hicks. If he gets off to a good start -- and he should with an experienced line in front of him -- Meyer will have a much easier day.
The inside scoop: Northern Iowa hung close last season before falling 17-10. UNI returns eight starters on offense from last year's squad, so expect them to be able to put up at least 17 again. The last time the Cyclones opened with a true road game, they suffered a 25-12 loss at Tulane.
Northern Iowa will win if ... it can stop the runing game early and get to Meyer. If UNI turns this into a game where Meyer is forced to make more than his share of decisions, the Panthers have a shot.
Iowa State will win if ... Hicks rushes for more than 120 yards. Keeping UNI's experienced offense off the field and taking the responsibility out of Meyer's hands will be key factors in the game.
The pick: Iowa State 24, Northern Iowa 17
Oklahoma State (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) at UCLA (0-0, 0-0 Pac-10) Saturday, Sept. 4 2:30 p.m. CDT - ABC Daily Line: Oklahoma State -1
Oklahoma State player to watch: Look for one of the members of the experienced secondary to have a great game, but whenever you have a young quarterback starting his first game it's likely the focus. Redshirt freshman Donovan Woods will be thrown into the fire, and Cowboy fans will begin watching what they hope is another record setting Woods brother.
UCLA player to watch: Running back Maurice Drew is coming off of a 1,219 all-purpose yards season. The Bruins will feed him the ball in several different ways to help get quarterback Drew Olson into a rhythm.
The inside scoop: Look for Drew to get the ball as many times as possible. As he goes, so do the Bruins. UCLA will try to nickle and dime the experienced Oklahoma State secondary with quick hitting passes to receiver Craig Bragg and tight end Marcedes Lewis. If Olson is off, the Cowboys may take one of the passes back for a touchdown.
Oklahoma State will win if ... (Donovan) Woods and D'Juan Woods are connecting. While the latter Woods didn't find the end zone often in 2003, the load will fall onto his shoulders in 2004. The ability of D'Juan to take a 10-yard pass and turn it into more will play a role against the Bruins.
UCLA will win if ... Olson doesn't make multiple mistakes. With another year under his belt, Olson needs to improve his 1:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
The pick: This game is a pick'em. Take the Bruins at home 27, Oklahoma State 24.
Western Illinois (0-0, 0-0 Gateway) at Nebraska (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) Saturday, Sept. 4 6:00 p.m. CDT
Western Illinois player to watch: Wide receiver and return specialist James Norris put up big numbers in 2003. Expect him to get several opportunities to return the ball Saturday.
Nebraska player to watch: Sophomore quarterback Joe Dailey will be making his first start. It will be interesting to watch Dailey handle Bill Callahan's West Coast offense under live bullets.
The inside scoop: The Huskers may have lost their best offense player Richie Incognito for the season. Callahan suspended him indefinitely on Wednesday. Without Incognito, this may be the most questionable Huskers offensive line in the history of the program. Quarterback is also a scary situation for NU. Dailey is backed up by two true freshmen with zero game experience.
Western Illinois will win if ... Dailey goes down early and WIU can take advantage of NU's two freshmen quarterbacks. Remember, the Leathernecks played LSU close for three quarters in Baton Rouge last fall.
Nebraska will win if ... it follows Callahan's game plan and executes offensively. The Huskers will ride their defense for most of this season. Expect the Blackshirts to rattle WIU early and often.
Notes: This is the first ever meeting between the two schools. Over the years, Western Illinois has been considered a powerhouse program at the Division I-AA level. NFL stars Rodney Harrison and Brian Cox are two of the Leathernecks' more notable alumni.
The pick: Nebraska 41, Western Illinois 7
Arkansas State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) at Missouri (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) Saturday, Sept. 4 6:00 p.m. CDT Daily Line: Missouri -32.5
Arkansas State player to watch: Sophomore quarterback Nick Noce is on the hot seat. Though he will start the ball game, expect a short leash. If he can't find a way to get the ball into wide receiver Jerome Stegall's hands, don't expect him to be in long.
Missouri player to watch: Linebacker James Kinney will be the defensive leader under the new system defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus installed this season. Sure, you'll be watching quarterback Brad Smith, but Kinney's leadership on the defensive side of the ball will be the spark needed to ignite the Tigers' run to the Big 12 Championship.
The inside scoop: Missouri will win this game, but the spread may be a little different. The Tigers have a short week ahead of them, and with a game against Troy State next Thursday, don't expect them to keep their horses on the field long after the game has been decided. However, the last time coach Gary Pinkel faced Arkansas State, he led Toledo to a 49-0 victory.
Arkansas State will win if ... Smith and Damien Nash suffer game-ending injuries in the first series, and Tiger back-up quarterback Brandon Coleman throws three picks.
Missouri will win if ... they don't believe all the hype and handle their business on the field.
The pick: Arkansas State adds a late touchdown to beat the spread, Missouri 44, Arkansas State 14
Tulsa (0-0, 0-0 WAC) at Kansas (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) Saturday, Sept. 4 6:00 p.m. CDT Daily Line: Kansas -4
Tulsa player to watch: Senior quarterback James Kilian is a man possessed in offensive coordinator Charlie Stubbs' scheme. In 2003, Killian passed for 2,217 yards and 22 touchdowns with a 57 percent completion percentage. On the ground, he rushed for 605 yards with six touchdowns.
Kansas player to watch: It won't be hard to find Mr. do-it-all for Kansas, Charles Gordon. In 2003, Gordon spent time on both sides of the field and special teams on his way to multiple post-season honors.
The inside scoop: Kansas has won four of its last five home-openers since the 1999 season, and are going for their fourth consecutive win over the Golden Hurricane. Kansas will put a lot of pressure on Tulsa's frontline with its ground game, which is led by running back Clark Green. Though Killian and the passing game get most of the attention, Tulsa has a very solid run game that can sustain drives. The Golden Hurricanes rushed for 2,492 yards in 2003, and expect to do the same with Uril Parrish back this season.
Tulsa will win if ... it is within 10 points heading into the fourth. Tulsa learned how to win in coach Steve Kragthorpe's first season, and have the weapons on offense to put points up quickly.
Kansas will win if ... it gets the running game going. The key to beating the Golden Hurriance is pounding it with the run while keeping their offense on the sidelines. In Tulsa's 52-10 Humanitarian Bowl loss to Georgia Tech last season, the Jackets crushed Tulsa with their ground attack.
The pick: Kansas at home. Jayhawks 23, Tulsa 21
Baylor (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) at UAB (0-0, 0-0 CUSA) Saturday, Sept. 4 6:00 p.m. CDT - ESPN Plus Daily Line: Baylor +14.5
Baylor player to watch: Junior free safety Maurice Lane has 177 tackles during his career with the Bears, but has yet to pick off his first pass. He'll get plenty of opportunities on Saturday.
UAB player to watch: Quarterback Darrell Hackney is back and headed into the season looking sharp. After getting off to a good start in the first five games of 2003, Hackney suffered a dislocated thumb on his throwing hand against TCU which sidelined him for the rest of the season. Though the Blazers will want to be balanced on offense, Hackney will have to come up with his share of key plays to assure a victory.
The inside scoop: Guy Morriss went from 2-9 in 2001 to 7-5 in his second season at Kentucky. Baylor fans are hoping for the same type of turn around in 2004. Morriss began preparation for this season in 2003 when he began to play several underclassmen late in the season to gain experience. Expect this game to stay close. Last year's 24-19 UAB victory came down to the final minute when Hackney hit Nick Coon for a 50-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the game.
Baylor will win if ... it finds an offense early. In 2003, the Bears had a hard time consistently scoring throughout games. They're going to need at least 21 points in this game; a mark Baylor surpassed just four times last season.
UAB will win if ... the offensive line holds up. The Blazers have the weapons behind the line to be explosive, however the inexperience of the offensive line will get tested early by Baylor's new defensive coordinator Bill Bradley.
The pick: UAB 32, Baylor 20
North Texas (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) at Texas (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) Saturday, Sept. 4 6:00 p.m. CDT Daily Line: Texas -26.5
North Texas player to watch: Mean Green senior running back Patrick Cobbs led the nation is rushing last season and ranked among the top six nationally in touchdowns and all-purpose yards. Cobbs will definitely test a Texas run defense that must improve this season if the Longhorns are to make a serious run at a Big 12 title.
Texas player to watch: A preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, running back Cedric Benson will likely get a chance to establish himself right away as a potential front-runner for the award because Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis plans on giving him 25-30 carries on Saturday. Benson is a notorious slow starter, so it will be interesting to see if he can come out of the gate strong this season.
The inside scoop: The Longhorns are breaking in a new defense Saturday, as Greg Robinson takes the reigns after spending more than a decade in the NFL as a defensive coordinator. Since Mack Brown has been at Texas, the Longhorns have been exclusively a man-to-man coverage team, but Robinson's defense will feature a lot more zone coverage.
North Texas will win if ... the Longhorns turn the ball over a half-dozen times, and the new defense isn't ready for prime time. It would take a total Longhorn meltdown for the Mean Green to steal a win in Austin, but they always give the Longhorns a tough fight when they play, and this year shouldn't be any different.
Texas will win if ... Benson and sophomore quarterback Vince Young run wild like many expect this season. The Longhorns have possibly their best offensive line since 1998, and they plan on using the run skills of their two main offensive weapons quite a bit. If the Mean Green doesn't come out ready to play, the game could get ugly.
Notes: The Longhorns named two surprising starters on Monday when it was announced that junior Eric Hall had beaten out sophomore Garnet Smith for the SAM linebacker job, while senior Stevie Lee will get the opening night nod at defensive tackle over Larry Dibbles. In addition to these changes, the Longhorns plan on playing as many as six freshmen Saturday.
The pick: Texas 52 North Texas 13
Western Kentucky (0-0, 0-0 Gateway) at Kansas State (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) Saturday, Sept. 4 6:10 p.m. CDT
Western Kentucky player to watch: The Hilltoppers have the best punter in I-AA this year in Brian Claybourn. He is in his fourth year of handling the punting duties and his ability on Saturday should help on the field position. A poor night for Claybourn and the Wildcats could make it a very long night for David Elson's squad.
Kansas State player to watch: How quickly sophomore quarterback Dylan Meier takes control and is able to establish another threat on offense to pair with All-American running back Darren Sproles will set the tone for the entire season.
The inside scoop: The Wildcats last played Western Kentucky in 2002. K-State won the game 48-3 en route to an 11-win campaign. The Hilltoppers followed the loss up with a run that took the I-AA school to a national title. K-State will be looking to establish threat in the passing game on offense in preparation for next week's game against Fresno State.
Western Kentucky will win if ... K-State does not play to its capabilities. The Hilltoppers are severely overmatched in this game, so it will take a bad performance by the Wildcats for the upset to occur.
Kansas State will win if ... if it follows the game plan, execute and avoid errors. It will take a below-average performance by the Wildcats, and a perfect game from Western Kentucky to have the upset happen this weekend in Manhattan.
Notes: K-State leads the overall series 2-0 with both wins coming in Manhattan under the direction of Bill Snyder. The last meeting came in 2002 with the Wildcats winning 48-3. This game is the first meeting between Snyder and second-year Hilltopper boss David Elson.
The pick: K-State 51, Western Kentucky 10
Colorado State (0-0, 0-0 Mountain West) at Colorado (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) Saturday, Sept. 4 6:00 p.m. MDT - FSN Daily Line: Colorado -4.5
Colorado State player to watch: The Rams have one of the best receivers in the country in junior David Anderson. The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder had 72 catches for 1,293 yards and nine touchdowns last season, including four grabs for 142 yards against Colorado.
Colorado player to watch: Junior quarterback Joel Klatt was the catalyst for the Buffaloes offense in 2003 and things aren't likely to change this season. Klatt threw for better than 2,600 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago.
The inside scoop: Last year's game turned into a shootout that was eventually won by Colorado, 42-35. The Buffaloes should be solid on offense again with Klatt, a solid group of receivers and tailback Bobby Purify. Colorado, however, was dismal on defense in 2003, ranking 97th nationally. Colorado State will have a new quarterback in place in Justin Holland, and his performance will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this game.
Colorado State will win if ... it is able to enjoy a balanced attack on offense and harass Klatt into a tough night defensively.
Colorado will win if ... it can force Holland into mistakes and get some decent production from its ground game.
Notes: Colorado leads the overall series 55-18-2 and has won seven of the last 10 meetings. In last season's game, the two teams combined for 741 passing yards.
Texas Tech player to watch: Senior quarterback Sonny Cumbie takes over for record-setting B.J. Symons. Cumbie and everyone else knows that the Red Raiders will air it out and he gets his first chance to prove that he's the man for the job against the Mustangs.
SMU player to watch: Senior linebacker D.D. Lee was one of the few bright sports for 0-12 SMU in 2003. He recorded 100 tackles last year and will spearhead what the Mustangs hope is an improved defense this season.
The inside scoop: There's no mystery what Texas Tech is going to do. The Red Raiders are going to put the ball in the air and try to score as many points as possible. And they should have success against SMU, which gave up nearly 32 points per game last season. Tech, however, gave up its share of points a year ago, but the Mustangs might not be able to take advantage. They were last in Division I in scoring offense at just more than 11 points per outing.
Texas Tech will win if ... Cumbie is adequate under center and the defense doesn't surrender too many big plays.
SMU will win if ... it can force the Raiders into several turnovers and find a way to sustain a few long drive that result in points.
Notes: Texas Tech leads the overall series 27-16 and won last year's meeting by a 58-10 count. The Raiders own a 75-55-7 mark all time against Western Athletic Conference teams.