Fewer risks for Big 12 coaches with easy openers

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.