Kansas vs. South Dakota
Friday, September 3rd 7:00 PM CT, ESPN+
Kansas kicks off the Big 12 football season by hosting FCS foe South Dakota. The Coyotes had a rough go of it last year with the turbulent COVID season, only playing four games and only winning one of those four (against Illinois State). However, as we are well aware, Kansas has been unable to produce on the field to any reasonable degree for the last decade plus. And even through all of that, this year’s team looks on paper to be one of its very worst. The Jayhawks were winless last year, with only one game being decided by a single score or less. Further, Kansas was riddled with scandal in the offseason, culminating in the departure of coach Les Miles and AD Jeff Long. The Jayhawks did pick up a good coach in Lance Liepold, who had success at Buffalo. Can he turn things around? Perhaps. Will it happen year one? Absolutely not. However, of the FCS schools, South Dakota figures to be one of the weaker ones. I think Kansas might win this game but will almost certainly lose out the rest of the season.
#2 Oklahoma vs. Tulane
Saturday, September 4th 11:00 AM CT, ABC
#2 Oklahoma was set to travel down to New Orleans to take on the Tulane Green Wave. However, Hurricane Ida caused this game to get moved to Norman. Offseason drama aside, Oklahoma has very high aspirations for 2021. That obviously starts here as they take on a rising Tulane squad. The Green Wave put together a 6-6 campaign last year, culminating in a bowl game loss to Nevada. The Green Wave have a new offensive coordinator, Chip Long, who was a former Broyles Award finalist. They also return quarterback Michael Pratt, who threw 20 touchdowns as a true freshman last year. So the Sooners’ defense might very well face an early test to start their season. However, Tulane’s defense was awful last year which does not bode well playing against Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler and the rest of their explosive offense. Oklahoma probably gives up more points than they would like but still cruises to a comfortable victory.
Kansas State vs. Stanford
Saturday, September 4th 11:00 AM CT, FS1
While there are always some snoozers in the first week of college football, this is certainly an interesting interconference matchup as Kansas State and the Stanford Cardinal meet at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Kansas State had a very up and down season last year. They looked good to great when being directed by quarterback Skylar Thompson. They were borderline unwatchable, at least offensively, when Thompson was injured. With Thompson seemingly back at full health, that should help the Wildcats out in this game. Stanford has been trying to rediscover its success of half a decade ago, but had a good 4-2 showing last year, winning all of their last four games. Two key concerns loom for Stanford, however. First, their overall defense was pretty mediocre, ranking near the bottom of the Pac 12 in run defense. That is something that Kansas State’s electric running back, Deuce Vaughn, should be able to exploit. Second, the Cardinal have to replace Davis Mills at quarterback and have no proven talent there. The Cardinal will likely find their go to guy as the season progresses, but that isn’t an ideal spot to be in for a neutral site game against a Power 5 opponent. The Wildcats pick up an important, early win.
34-28 Kansas State
West Virginia @ Maryland
Saturday, September 4th 2:30 PM CT, ESPN
Another interesting Power 5 matchup kicks off in College Park, MD as West Virginia travels to take on the Maryland Terrapins. The Mountaineers had an admirable 6-4 record last year, topping their season off with a close bowl win over Army. WVU needs to improve on offense as they have a lot of potential but have yet to show the consistency they need. Quarterback Jarret Doege has plenty of experience to lead the Mountaineers, he just needs to show he has the confidence to keep the football moving. Defensively, West Virginia was electric last season, with a top five defense. However, many players moved on or transferred so we’ll see if that carries over. On the other side, Maryland is a potential up and coming team. They only finished 2-3 last year, but that included a big overtime win over Minnesota and a beat down of Penn State. The Terrapins’ biggest weapon is quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. In their losses, Tagovailoa looked somewhat lost. However, in their wins, Tagovailoa was explosive and has talented receivers around him, like Rakim Jarrett. I think this game comes down to how much of a step back West Virginia’s defense takes. If the defense stays in the range of last year’s, the Mountaineers should win here. If the defense regresses, Maryland will likely get the ball moving as Tagovailoa has had another full offseason to become accustomed to running the Maryland offense. I think West Virginia lost just a few too many elite defenders for me to think there won’t be a drop off.
#7 Iowa State vs. Northern Iowa
Saturday, September 4th 3:30 PM CT, ESPN+
#7 Iowa State is entering the season with all-time high expectations. Many view Iowa State as a potential playoff team, pending their game(s) against Oklahoma. However, such aspirations lay far down the path for the Cyclones as they open their season hosting in-state FCS opponent Northern Iowa. While most would view this as an easy cupcake game, Iowa State absolutely cannot afford to view it like that. The temptation will be there, with their top 25 matchup with Iowa looming next week. But the Cyclones need to focus on the UNI Panthers, as they have had a terrible track record of losing opening games they really shouldn’t, playing down to much lesser competition. They lost to Louisiana last year, one of only three losses for the Clones. Two seasons ago they beat Northern Iowa 29-26, but it took three overtimes to secure the victory. In 2018, Iowa State’s opener was cancelled (they lost to Iowa in their first actual game), and they only beat non-scholarship FCS Drake by three points, 27-24. In 2016, Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa 25-20. These were all games in Matt Campbell’s tenure, there are plenty of older examples of Iowa State dropping the ball to much lesser competition. All that to say, Iowa State is certainly a national contender on paper. But they have to get off to a strong start here. They absolutely cannot come slow out of the gate like in years past. Iowa State should theoretically win this game with ease, as Northern Iowa only went 3-4 last season. But don’t be surprised if this game is closer than it ought to be. A loss here—however unlikely—would be catastrophic for the Cyclones.
35-21 Iowa State
#21 Texas vs. #23 Louisiana
Saturday, September 4th 3:30 PM CT, FOX
Speaking of teams opening against Louisiana, it’s #21 Texas’s turn to do that this year. As is almost tradition at this point, Texas comes into the season with lofty preseason hype and a new head coach, Steve Sarkisian. Tom Herman was let go after a 7-3 season last year. Will the Longhorns actually be able to live up to some of that hype this time around? We might get a good glimpse at that possibility in this somewhat surprising top 25 matchup. #23 Louisiana out of the Sunbelt had an exceptional season last year, posting a 10-1 record with a win against Iowa State and a bowl victory. The Ragin’ Cajuns return their prolific quarterback, Levi Lewis, and have the tools for another great run. Do they have the firepower needed to beat Texas in Austin? Probably not, but this wouldn’t really be that surprising of an upset if it happened given the stability at Louisiana and transition at Texas. Still, I have Texas winning this one.
Texas Tech vs. Houston
Saturday, September 4th 6:00 PM CT, ESPN
This is a fun opening weekend showdown between Texas Tech and Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston. For Tech, the biggest question is if Oregon transfer quarterback Tyler Shough will be able to fit into the system from game one, moving the Red Raiders above their 4-6 record from a year ago. Given he beat out a lot of other competitors for the position, it would seem the coaching staff thinks he will be able to fit in just fine. It will help that Shough has an elite offensive line in front of him and some potential weapons at running back and receiver. Defensively, Tech has a definite strength at linebacker but there are some questions marks on the defensive line and in the secondary. Houston really needs to deliver this year, after a disappointing 3-5 record in 2020. They have the weapons and depth to make that jump, they just need to make it happen. A win here would be huge for the Cougars. A loss would be extremely demoralizing for the Red Raiders. However, I think Texas Tech has more upside and should start their season with a win.
28-24 Texas Tech
Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State
Saturday, September 4th 6:00 PM CT, ESPN+
Oklahoma State has its sights set high after a solid, but slightly disappointing 8-3 run in its 2020 season. Offensively, the continuing development of quarterback Spencer Sanders will be a key to watch if the Cowboys want to take a leap to the next level. The Cowboys have plenty of depth at running back. If any of those backs decide to takeover like Oklahoma State rushers of the recent past, then this offense could be a serious threat in the Big 12. The defense also has the potential to carry them to a breakout season. Missouri State had a bizarre 2020 (-2021) season, in that they played three games in the fall (losing to Oklahoma, and then Central Arkansas twice). They then played a spring 2021 schedule where they went 5-2 with a postseason berth. Their coach, Bobby Petrino, was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s coach of the year for that spring performance. So this is a decent FCS team, but Oklahoma State should have little issues here.
42-17 Oklahoma State
Baylor @ Texas State
Saturday, September 4th 6:00 PM CT, ESPN+
Your Baylor Bears open their 2021 campaign with a road game in San Marcos to take on the Texas State Bobcats. As I’ve written before, success this season for Baylor really depends on offensive improvements under new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. Grimes helmed an elite offense at BYU the season prior, can he replicate that success at Baylor? A lot of the answer to that question will lie on the shoulders of quarterback Gerry Bohanon, who was named the starter for the season opener. Bohanon provides a unique dual-threat ability that should fit well into Grimes’s wide zone scheme. Texas State is coming off an abysmal 2-10 2020 campaign. The Bobcats have some young talent, but it remains to be seen if head coach Jake Spavital can get that talent to perform consistently as he is only 5-19 during his time at Texas State. Even if the Bears’ offense isn’t very improved this season, Baylor’s elite defense should be more than enough to bottle up the Bobcats.
TCU vs. Duquesne
Saturday, September 4th 7:00 PM CT, ESPN+
TCU had a decent 2020 run, earning a 6-4 record. However, they will certainly be looking to improve on that this season as they have the offensive weapons to once again be a dynamic force in the Big 12. Quarterback Max Duggan has clearly separated himself as a strong leader, who runs the ball nearly as well as he throws it. Add on a great running back group and the Horned Frogs will certainly be able to rush the ball well this season. Defense has always been a strength for the Horned Frogs, but they have to figure out how to replace three elite defenders who left for the NFL. TCU begins that process by hosting FCS Duquesne. The Dukes had a strong 2020 spring season, going 4-1 with their only loss coming in overtime. Regardless, TCU should be able to outmatch Duquesne at every position, so this should be little more than a tune up for the Frogs.