Nebraska, Iowa State, Texas Tech open Big 12 season

Friday, August 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ If it seems like Saturday's start to the college football season is earlier than ever for a Big 12 team, you're almost right.

When Nebraska, Iowa State and Texas Tech play Saturday, they'll be starting one day after the earliest start in league history, set by Oklahoma on Aug. 23, 1997.

The Red Raiders get going first, playing No. 13 Ohio State in an afternoon game in newly renovated Ohio Stadium. More than 100,000 could be on hand to watch Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury try breaking out from the ``underrated'' label many have pinned on him.

The No. 10 Cornhuskers play a few hours later, taking on Arizona State in Lincoln, followed by Iowa State facing No. 3 Florida State at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

The storyline surrounding Nebraska is how quarterback Jammal Lord will fare as he replaces Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. There are five other new starters on offense, and the defense _ which allowed 99 points over the final two games last season _ replaces five starters.

The ``Blackshirts'' can look to rebuild their reputation against an Arizona State quarterback taking his first collegiate snap. Chad Christensen knows what to expect, though, because he lived in Lincoln for five years.

Should the Cornhuskers need any motivational fuel, coach Frank Solich could pop in a tape of the last time the teams met: Sept. 21, 1996, when the Sun Devils shut out Nebraska, ending its 26-game winning streak.

The Cyclones are hoping to jumpstart their season with a huge upset. They have the quarterback to do it in Seneca Wallace, a run-pass threat that Florida State coach Bobby Bowden has called ``a combination of a Charlie Ward and Michael Vick.'' ISU beat FSU in their only previous meeting, back in 1975.

The Cyclones also will be breaking in a new No. 1 running back, Mike Wagner. He backed up Ennis Haywood the last two seasons then took the job this fall from Hiawatha Rutland, who had won the starting role in the spring.

Wagner, who set the ISU freshman rushing record two years ago with 170 yards in his only previous start, will try extend the school's streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher the last seven seasons.

The challenge for the Red Raiders will be to hand the Buckeyes their first loss in a home opener since 1979.

Among the players Tech will have to stop is Maurice Clarett, who will become Ohio State's first true freshman to start at tailback in his first game. That's something Archie Griffin, Robert Smith and Eddie George didn't do.

The Red Raiders have won all seven non-conference games under coach Mike Leach, but none of the opponents have been the caliber of Ohio State. Tech took the challenge partly for a payout of more than $1.5 million.

``This is the first time since I've been here that we've played in a game like this on national TV,'' Kingsbury said. ``We're excited. No matter what happens, it's great exposure for the program.''