Other Campuses: Big 12 teams pull off shaky season-opening wins

By U. of Nebraska

(CSTV U-WIRE) LINCOLN, Neb. – Eleven of the 12 teams in the Big 12 Conference kicked off their 2005 schedules this weekend, and fans of nine of them spent most of their Labor Day weekends hand-wringing.

With only Texas and Missouri putting their debut opponents away early, the conference looked anything but elite as nail-biters were the norm across the league.

Maine, Montana State, Illinois State and Florida International. These typical opening game patsies handed out some unexpected headaches to Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas State, respectively.

Each of those Big 12 teams would eventually win, but not without incident. Was opening weekend a sign of a down year for the league, or were the struggles typical first-game mishaps?

“Coaches all the time will tell you that first game is the trickiest,” Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. “I don’t care who you’re playing or what you have coming back from last year or what you don’t have coming back. The chemistry of your team, you don’t know until you play a game.”

The Jayhawks entered their opener Saturday as 24-point favorites over Florida Atlantic, but held only a 9-7 lead at the half before putting away the Owls.

And KU was one of the more impressive teams Saturday. Oklahoma State sweated it out in new head coach Mike Gundy’s debut, needing a fourth-quarter defensive stand to survive a 15-10 scare against Division I-AA Montana State.

Despite returning all its influential talent at skill positions, Iowa State found itself tied 15-15 with Illinois State until late in the third quarter before pulling out a 32-21 win. And you’d be hard-pressed to find any Nebraska fan encouraged by the Cornhuskers’ performance in Saturday night’s 25-7 win over Maine – a game that was a one-score difference in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team was perhaps the most shocking victim of all in a conference-wide weekend of lethargy, said opening weekend struggles sometimes can be a result of a team believing its hype. The Sooners lost a game in September for the first time in Stoops’ seven seasons, falling to Texas Christian 17-10 in their home opener.

“Sometimes when you’ve won for a period of time like we have, the players almost take it for granted – that it’s a right to win,” Stoops said. “It isn’t a right; you earn it every week.”

Both Oklahoma and Nebraska endured their struggles with first-time starting signal callers. OU rotated junior Paul Thompson and redshirt freshman Rhett Bomar, with neither proving effective. And NU’s Zac Taylor completed only 15 of his 36 pass attempts and threw two interceptions in his first start.

From faulty quarterback play to turnovers and stunning struggles, the Big 12 Conference looked nothing like world beaters in the first week, leaving fans and coaches alike maybe more relieved at being 1-0 than encouraged by their debut performances.

“I don’t care who you’re playing in the first game,” Mangino said, “but a win is a win and it’s important.” -Jeff Sheldon