Even Stoops anxious as Big 12 teams prepare to play

Tuesday, August 31st 2004, 9:21 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ No. 2 Oklahoma has Heisman Trophy winner Jason White at quarterback, along with eight other returning offensive starters, and is again considered a favorite in the Big 12.

But that doesn't eliminate coach Bob Stoops' anxiety going into the opener. There is always that element of unknown starting a new season.

``It's a new go at it. Even though you have a lot of starters back, it's meshing as a team and what kind of personality you will have,'' Stoops said Monday. ``While you have an idea, you're still a little uneasy until you get out there and do it.''

Just like the rest of the Big 12, it's finally game week for Stoops and the Sooners.

Texas A&M has the first opener, Thursday night at No. 20 Utah. Everybody else plays Saturday, the earliest being Oklahoma's pre-noon kickoff against Bowling Green.

``You don't know until you get into the game, know for positive how guys are going to react,'' Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said during the Big 12 coaches teleconference.

Every coach shares the anxiety and excitement about getting started.

``We're pumped up,'' said Colorado coach Gary Barnett. ``Everybody's anxious to play, our team maybe a little more than most because of what they've been through.''

Barnett missed spring drills while suspended for insensitive remarks about a former kicker who claimed she was sexually assaulted. There were also players accused of rape and questions about alcohol and sex being used as recruiting tools.

Even with the season starting, Barnett knows there will continue to be distractions outside of games.

``I'd like to be able to focus on that, but the situation doesn't quite allow that now,'' Barnett said. ``I'm sure that will be thrown up at us, and me, throughout the year.''

So he relishes the time he's with the players, whether on the field or in meetings. The Buffaloes open at home _ a real home game, not in Denver _ against Colorado State.

Former NFL coach Bill Callahan coaches his first game for Nebraska against Western Illinois, which has made significant changes to its staff.

``Now it's time to see what we can do,'' Callahan said. ``The anxiety lies in that we don't know what to expect from Western Illinois. It's hard to predict ... we go into this blind.''

About the Leathernecks, not his team, which will have a much different look.

Callahan has replaced Nebraska's deliberate, power running game with a West Coast offense. He said he has a good feel for his team's strengths, and believes sophomore quarterback Joe Dailey has a firm grasp on the pass-often system.

Stoops has White, who after having two seasons cut short by serious knee injuries, threw for 3,846 yards and a school-record 40 touchdowns last season.

Going into last season, no one was sure White would even make it through the first few games.

``A year ago, he still wasn't running much, not cleared to do conditioning. Even though he was throwing well, his legs were not back,'' Stoops said. ``Now we have a guy coming back with a lot of experience. He's been able to go through everything. He's more prepared for the year.''

That should help ease Stoops' anxiety level.


TRENDY PICK: Missouri is coming off its first bowl since 1998 and has junior quarterback Brad Smith, who missed by 23 passing yards becoming the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a season.

Kansas State is the defending Big 12 champion, but No. 18 Missouri has become a trendy pick in the North Division for some prognosticators.

``I don't pay attention to that stuff. It means we have a little bit more respect going in,'' coach Gary Pinkel said. ``Picks or rankings don't mean a lot; you just want to be respected.''

Still, some expectations for his team are ``mindboggling'' to Pinkel. The Tigers lost to Arkansas in the Independence Bowl after alternating wins and losses throughout the conference schedule.

Pinkel isn't worried about his team being overconfident or buying into the hype.

``I see how they play, they practice and their mannerisms,'' he said.


QUOTEABLE: ``It's the start, no one wants to stumble at the start of the race. And that's what half of the teams are going to do. They are going to stumble and be behind. ... It's a huge confidence boost if you win, a huge question mark if you lose.'' _ Colorado coach Gary Barnett on the importance of season openers.