Defending Big 12 champ Oklahoma opens against streaking FAU
Some things to watch in the Big 12 Conference the first weekend of the 2018 season:
GAME OF THE WEEK
Florida Atlantic at No. 7 Oklahoma. The Sooners have won three Big 12 championships in a row, and last season went to the College Football Playoff for the second time. Conference USA champ Florida Atlantic carries a 10-game winning streak into 2018, its second season under coach Lane Kiffin. The Owls are looking for their first-ever victory over a ranked FBS opponent. They have the C-USA preseason offensive and defensive players of the year in junior running back Devin Singletary (1,920 yards rushing, national-best 32 TDs) and senior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (147 tackles). One of FAU’s quarterbacks is redshirt freshman Chris Robison, who was at Oklahoma last summer before being dismissed from the program for violating team rules.
Two coaches leading their alma maters when Texas Tech plays Mississippi in Houston. Former Red Raiders quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has a 30-33 record going into his sixth season as coach. Matt Luke was an offensive lineman at Ole Miss, and served as interim coach for the Rebels during a 6-6 season last year before getting the full-time job. The Red Raiders, who expected their defense to be greatly improved, is listed a slight favorite.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
West Virginia, which plays Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina, has lost its last two neutral-site openers against Power Five opponents. The Mountaineers fell to Virginia Tech last season at the home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, and lost to Alabama in Atlanta four years ago. The Volunteers are 5-0-1 in season-opening games at a neutral site. … There are five first-time matchups for Big 12 teams the opening weekend, including the Florida Atlantic-Oklahoma and WVU-Tennessee games. The others are all home games: TCU against Southern University; Kansas playing Nicholls State; and Baylor taking on Abilene Christian. … The Big 12 will play 11 of its 30 non-conference games (37 percent) against teams from other Power Five leagues. That is the highest percentage for any of the autonomy conferences. Three of those games are Saturday.
No. 16 TCU plays its opener against a SWAC team for the third time in seven seasons. Southern will try to do what Grambling State and Jackson State failed to do — score a point. The Horned Frogs, who played Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game last December, overwhelmed Jackson State 63-0 to start last season and beat Grambling 56-0 in the 2012 opener.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
West Virginia’s potent quarterback-receiver combo of Will Grier and David Sills. Grier threw for 3,490 yards and his 34 TD passes in 11 games were the second-most in a single season for the Mountaineers. Sills, a former quarterback, tied for the national lead with 18 TD catches — all on passes from Grier.