TCU, Oklahoma State have chance to bolster Big 12 image with tough season openers


DALLAS – As much as they’ve failed to live up to their standards recently, Texas can still lay claim to the last non-SEC national title.

The Longhorns beat USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl to win their first national championship in more than three decades but the SEC has won each of the seven national titles since, with Alabama winning three of the last four.

“It’s impossible to call yourself the best league in college football unless you can win a national championship,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “I don’t think you can be the best without playing the best.”

The Big 12 obviously has a long way to go to catch the SEC as the superior conference in college football but a pair of season openers this year could help close the gap. Oklahoma State starts the year against Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium on Aug. 31 and TCU begins the season against LSU at Cowboys Stadium the same day.

“It changes our approach as a coaching staff in what we do in preseason practice,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said. “My concern is whether it affects us in November because we really need to be strong [late in the season]… There are some adjustments we have to make when you play an opponent like Mississippi State.”

Perennial powerhouse LSU, who went 10-3 last season, will face a TCU team that won just seven games last season after winning at least 11 in six of the previous seven seasons. The Horned Frogs, who scheduled the game with the Tigers while still members of the Mountain West Conference, return 16 starters from last year’s squad.

“One of the only things you worry about is the physicalness of it and losing players,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said. “When this game was set, it was actually a home and home. We got smart about it and said that’s not good for TCU overall. In one ballgame, you still get the expectation level of playing a quality opponent.”

Both Oklahoma State and TCU should have much different experiences in their season opener this season than they did last year. The Cowboys crushed Savannah State, 84-0, in their first game in 2012 while the Horned Frogs opened last season by romping Grambling State, 56-0.

“Everybody is more focused on this first game,” TCU running back Waymon James said. “It’s going to set the tone for the season. With Grambling, everybody’s like, ‘Whatever, it’s Grambling. We’re probably going to win.’ Now we’re excited.”

Neither team has yet to name a starting quarterback, although senior Casey Pachall is expected to beat out sophomore Trevone Boykin for TCU’s starting quarterback gig after returning from substance abuse rehabilitation. Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh are battling for the starting quarterback job at Oklahoma State.

“Our hunger to get better and to be the best we can be, I don’t think it can get any higher,” Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett said. “[Playing Mississippi State] helps. It gives us motivation when you think about not just playing Savannah State. We’ve got Mississippi State. We’ve got to keep going.”