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September 2, 2010

Week 1 preview in the Big 12

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | Pac-10 | SEC | Others

Northern Illinois at Iowa State, 8 p.m.
Missouri vs. Illinois at St. Louis, 12:30 p.m.
Colorado vs. Colorado State at Denver, 2 p.m.
UCLA at Kansas State, 3:30 p.m.
Texas at Rice, 3:30 p.m.
Washington State at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m.
North Dakota State at Kansas, 7 p.m.
Utah State at Oklahoma, 7 p.m.
Sam Houston at Baylor, 7 p.m.
Stephen F. Austin at Texas A&M, 7 p.m.
Western Kentucky at Nebraska, 7 p.m.
SMU at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m.

Folks in Omaha, Neb., the annual site of the College World Series, have seen the euphoria of a walk-off home run.

And 45 miles west, they'd love to experience it, too.

Other than a football national championship, what could be more euphoric for the folks in Lincoln -- actually, the entire population of Nebraska -- than the Huskers winning the Big 12 championship, then walking off to the Big Ten? The opportunity to flash a single finger (the index one, of course) to Texas, Oklahoma and the other remaining Big 12 members on the way out would be that much sweeter.

The Huskers look to have the team capable of making that happen.

Projected All-Americans Prince Amukamara and Jared Crick head a defense that coach Bo Pelini boasted could be superior (five times better, he said) than the unit that allowed the fewest points in the nation last season, Running backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead are explosive. The offensive line is solid. The kicking game is excellent.

The eighth-ranked Huskers could -- maybe should -- win their first Big 12 championship since 1999.

But obviously they're not talking about that now. They won't even talk about their starting quarterback situation.

Incumbent starter Zac Lee, who had offseason surgery to repair a tendon in his right (throwing) elbow, has been competing with sophomore Cody Green and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez for the No. 1 spot.

"I have an idea who it's going to be," Pelini said earlier this week. "Nothing has been decided yet. Our approach is a day-in, day-out competition. It's not difficult for us to prepare. That's how we handle it across the board. Our guys understand we put such a focus on practice and how we prepare. Our guys are used to it. We approach it that way at every position."

Of course, not every position is as important as quarterback. And even though Nebraska posted 10 victories in '09 with Lee playing hurt, that position still may decide just how good the Huskers are.

Last season, Nebraska ranked just 101st in the nation in passing offense. Huskers quarterbacks threw 16 touchdown passes last season, but only six in nine games against Big 12 opponents. The Huskers need to improve there.

It could mean the difference in a euphoric walk-off or a disappointing strikeout.

Best matchup: SMU at Texas Tech. The Week 1 schedule typically is infested with mismatches and potential blowouts (see Texas vs. Rice, Oklahoma vs. Utah State, Nebraska vs. Western Kentucky and Texas A&M vs. Stephen F. Austin), but Sunday night's game could be entertaining. Both teams averaged more than 29 points last season and ranked among the nation's top 15 in passing offense. Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts threw for 3,440 yards in '09. SMU QB Kyle Padron passed for 1,922 yards in half a season as the starter. Both teams return at least three receivers who had at least 40 catches.

Player on the spot: Kansas State RB Daniel Thomas. He must be productive to give the Wildcats a chance to beat UCLA. Last season, he rushed for 1,265 yards but was held to 53 in a 23-9 loss to UCLA. K-State can't rely on its passing game with unproven QB Carson Coffman facing the Bruins' excellent secondary. Thomas' performance is key.

Numbers game: Yes, Nebraska is expected to post a huge victory over Western Kentucky, but in each of the past three seasons, a Big 12 team was upset by an opponent from the Sun Belt Conference. Last season, Louisiana-Lafayette defeated Kansas State. Arkansas State topped Texas A&M in '08. And Troy beat Oklahoma State in '07.

What they're saying

"We train kids about alcohol, about assault. We don't just every once in a while bring it up. In the offseason, we educate. We're very good at it, and we're very specific and very consistent. So this message just doesn't come up once every two or three years. We have rules and regulations and standards." -- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose team has had three members face DUI charges and another facing a sexual-assault charge

"People are asking, 'Do I want to get hit and get it out of the way?' I'm not looking to go out there and just run into somebody. Hopefully, the offensive line will take care of those guys. But once you get hit, it's part of football. I got hit a lot my freshman year. It wasn't a problem." -- Baylor QB Robert Griffin, who is returning from a knee injury that forced him to miss most of the '09 season

"My feeling about scheduling has never really changed over the years. It's our preference, and it doesn't make it right or wrong, to open up with a schedule you can build into your conference. I'm not a big fan of playing nationally prominent programs in the early stages because the conference schedule is tough enough, and you'd like to be healthy when you get there." - Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, whose Wildcats open against UCLA

Etc.: Missouri has dismissed TB Derrick Washington, who is facing sexual assault charges. Washington led the Tigers in rushing in each of the past two seasons. Sophomore Kendial Lawrence will start in his place against Illinois. ... Nebraska, which closed the '09 season with a 33-0 victory over Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, could post back-to-back shutouts for the first time since blanking Texas Tech and Kansas in consecutive weeks in 1997. That also was the year of the Huskers' most recent national championship. ... Iowa State will face Northern Illinois without SS David Sims, the '09 Big 12 newcomer of the year, who is suspended for the season opener. Earlier this summer, Sims was charged with unauthorized use of a credit card. ... Kansas has moved sophomore Toben Opurum from running back to linebacker. First-year Jayhawks coach Turner Gill had hinted Opurum could sit out a redshirt year if he wasn't going to get significant playing time, but said this week he expects Opurum will play this year. Opurum led Kansas with 554 rushing yards last season. ... Missouri WR Jerrell Jackson is listed as a starter for this week's game against Illinois even though it originally was feared he would be out at least two games with a broken left wrist. ... Oklahoma DT Adrian Taylor's availability for the opener against Utah State could come down to a game-time decision. Taylor is trying to come back from a broken ankle suffered in last season's Sun Bowl. ... Oklahoma State is unsure whether Hubert Anyiam, their leading receiver a year ago, will be available. He has been slowed by a foot injury suffered in the spring. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy also hasn't made decisions on the status of DE Jamie Blatnick and S Victor Johnson, who have had legal issues. Blatnick recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery, while Johnson has been charged with marijuana possession. ... Texas has named 250-pound Cody Johnson the starter at tailback over Tre' Newton and Foswhitt Whittaker. Texas also has moved sophomore Alex Okafor from defensive end to defensive tackle. Texas A&M backup DL Stephen Barrera is out for the season with a hip injury.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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