Best matchup: Toledo outside linebacker Mike Alston vs. Iowa State quarterback Bret Meyer. An All-MAC selection in 2005, Alston is a Butkus Award candidate who racked up 9½ sacks and 10 tackles for loss last season. He was the defensive MVP in a 45-13 GMAC Bowl victory over UTEP in which he notched three sacks and harassed quarterback Jordan Palmer into a sub-par performance. Palmer completed just 14 of 33 passes. Meyer, who passed for 2,876 yards and 19 touchdowns, must be aware of where Alston is and avoid being harassed into a similar off night. Of course, Meyer has the ability to elude rushers and has his entire offensive line back to protect him.
Worst matchup: Oklahoma junior running back Adrian Peterson figures to have a big game against the Alabama-Birmingham run defense, which allowed 148.1 yards per game in 2005 to rank 59th nationally. Only four running backs managed more than 100 yards against the Blazers last season, but Peterson is coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,108 yards despite being slowed by injuries. Now healthy, he figures to show the form of his freshman year when he ran for 1,925 yards.
The pressure is on: Kansas State coach Ron Prince, who is in the difficult position of replacing the greatest coach in school history. Ask Ray Perkins, who followed Bear Bryant at Alabama, how pleasant that is to attempt. Bill Snyder, Prince's predecessor, had a 136-68-1 record in 17 seasons in Manhattan and is generally credited with the greatest coaching overhaul in college football history. Prince can gain some encouragement from the fact Snyder's first team finished 1-10.
Upset alert: Toledo, which was 9-3 a year ago, is one of those MAC teams with a chip on its shoulder. The Rockets have a history of upsetting teams from power conferences (Minnesota in 2001, Penn State in 2002, Pittsburgh in 2003). Iowa State anticipates fielding one of its best teams ever, but it better not take Toledo for granted. The Cyclones have a tendency to overlook some opponents and it has cost them (a 23-13 loss to Baylor last season). However, Iowa State is 9-2 all-time against MAC schools.
Most to lose: Defending Mountain West Conference champion TCU has posted at least 10 victories four times in the last six seasons, but its BCS hopes have always come up just short. The Horned Frogs are expecting another big year in Fort Worth, but a loss to Baylor - a perennial Big 12 doormat - would further the perception that TCU is just a big fish in a small pond.
Who's hot: Texas coach Mack Brown isn't just hot, he's torrid. Not only are his Longhorns defending national champions riding a 20-game winning streak, but he is 83-19 in his eight seasons in Austin. That is the bet start in school history and the nation's best stretch in that span. Brown is also 56-8 (.875) over the last five seasons, the nation's best in that period.
Who's not: Texas A&M closed last season with four consecutive losses, which prevented the Aggies from reaching a bowl game for the third time in four years. A season-opening matchup against The Citadel, which was 4-7 in Division I-AA last season, won't inspire much of a thaw.
Must-see TV: UAB at Oklahoma, TBS. The Sooners were once hailed as national-championship contenders but seemed in dire straits when quarterback Rhett Bomar and guard J.D. Quinn were found accepting money for nothing (well, for not working). Anyway, Paul Thompson moves from receiver to quarterback, and his performance in the season opener may give an indication of how successful OU's offense can be this season. Of course, Thompson originally came to Norman as a quarterback and even started the 2005 season opener, a 17-10 loss to TCU.
Newcomer who could have an impact: Seven Big 12 teams will start new quarterbacks, so any of those could qualify. Texas Tech sophomore Graham Harrell probably will lead the nation in passing, but Tech quarterbacks always do. Therefore, we'll look to Missouri's Chase Daniel, who replaces record-setting Brad Smith. Daniel completed 80 percent of his passes during August scrimmages. He won't run like Smith, but he will be a better passer.
Key stat: Colorado has scored in 210 consecutive games, which is the sixth-longest streak in the nation. That streak figures to be extended significantly with the arrival of coach Dan Hawkins, whose Boise State teams ranked among the nation's top 10 scoring offenses in four of his five seasons there as head coach. Boise State led the nation in scoring in 2002 and 2003, ranked second in 2004 and was ninth in 2005. In 2001, Boise State ranked 18th.
Take the line: Texas minus-41 vs. North Texas. Take the Longhorns and lay the points. The Longhorns have outscored their last three season-opening opponents by a combined score of 191-10. Even when they didn't play that well in 2002, they still shut out North Texas 27-0. Texas' lack of experience at quarterback is the reason for the relatively close line, however the Longhorns are still dominant up front offensive and defensively. The Mean Green was held under 20 points eight times last season and doesn't figure to score much against Texas.
They said it: Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops on the reaction of losing quarterback Rhett Bomar and replacing him with Paul Thompson: "I definitely think people made too much of the differences. If you think about it, truthfully, I think most people got caught up in what Rhett might have been someday. The truth is, we lost a guy who finished the year with 10 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. It isn't not like you're losing (former Heisman Trophy winner) Jason White, that's thrown for maybe 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That's different."
Injury update: Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda is recovering from an offseason ACL injury. He's expected to be back in September, but his status for the opener is uncertain. … Kansas State safety Marcus Watts, a starter all last season, is still recovering from a dislocated hip suffered in the season-ending game against Missouri last season. He won't start against Illinois State, but is expected to play. … Nebraska cornerback Zackary Bowman is out for the season with a knee injury suffered early in camp. Andre Jones, a junior college transfer and five-star recruit, will start in Bowman's place. … Texas A&M linebackers Justin Warren and Mark Dodge have both missed some recent practices with knee injuries, but both are expected to return to practice this week. … Oklahoma's top two centers, sophomore Jon Cooper and true freshman Chase Beeler, are both hobbled with sore ankles. Both sat out last Friday's practice. … Texas heralded freshman linebacker Sergio Kindle has been out most of the preseason workouts with a high ankle sprain and his playing status is uncertain. … Texas Tech receiver Jarrett Hicks will not play in the season opener against SMU. He has been ruled ineligible pending an appeal to the NCAA.
Worth noting: Kansas State will be without 2005 leading rusher Thomas Clayton in its season opener. Clayton will sit out the first game for disciplinary reasons. However, the Wildcats will have Dylan Meier back as the starting quarterback. Meier was a starter in 2004, but missed last season with an injury. … Kansas sophomore cornerback Aqib Talib has been suspended for breaking team rules and won't play in the season-opener against Northwestern State. … Hoping to make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history, Kansas must capitalize on opportunities against opponents like Northwestern State, which was 5-5 in Division I-AA last season. This year the Jayhawks face six teams that appeared in bowl games a year ago. … Baylor opens its season against TCU on Sunday, which seems almost blasphemous for the Baptist school. It wasn't that long ago dancing was forbidden at Baylor, and now they're playing on Sunday. … Nebraska led the nation with 50 quarterback sacks last season, which isn't good news for Louisiana Tech quarterback Zac Champion. The Bulldogs allowed an average of 2.27 sacks a game last season. ... Nebraska has won its last 20 season openers dating to a 17-13 loss to Florida State in 1985. … Baylor receiver Trent Shelton has caught at least one pass in 33 consecutive games, which is just one behind the Bears' all-time leading streak set by Reggie Newhouse. Shelton's streak is the NCAA's fourth longest heading into the 2006 season. … Kansas State has won its last 17 season-openers. … Texas is 93-17-3 in season-openers with the last loss coming against North Carolina State, 23-20, in 1999. … Texas A&M's offense was just one of 11 to average in more than 200 yards rushing and passing in 2005. … Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson needs 371 yards to break into the Big 12 Conference's career rushing top 10. He also needs 1,086 yards this season to break Billy Sims' school career rushing record of 4,118 yards. ... Oklahoma State receiver D'Juan Woods already ranked third on the school's career receiving yardage chart with 2,104. He trails only his brother Rashaun and Hart Lee Dykes, both former NFL first round draft choices.