Conference play brings new season for Big 12 teams


Tuesday, September 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


As the only Big 12 school without a victory, Colorado might be one of the most dangerous teams heading into the first week of conference play. After all, it's hard to imagine things getting any worse.

The Buffaloes, whose three season-opening losses have been by a combined 10 points, open Big 12 play at home Saturday against No. 5 Kansas State (4-0), which has outscored its four opponents 212-27.

While admitting it would be easy to be intimidated by Kansas State's dominance, Colorado coach Gary Barnett also knows that the Buffs pose a threat to anyone who dares judge them by their worst start in 14 years.

``We've measured up against some of the best competition that's out there,'' Barnett said Monday. ``We feel like we're really ready for the conference to start. Just based on the kind of teams that we've played, there isn't any doubt in our minds that we can be a pretty good football team and contend here.''

Doing little to shed its reputation for playing a cushy non-conference schedule, Kansas State waltzed through the season's first four weeks unchallenged. The Wildcats are hoping to avoid a repeat of last year, when Iowa State nearly pulled off an upset in the conference opener.

``In the past we've moved smoothly into conference play and sometimes we haven't,'' Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. ``I think it just depends on how well-prepared you are for that given ballgame, whether it's your initial game in the conference or at any other time during the season.''

Iowa State (3-0), meanwhile, is trying to start the season with four victories for the first time since 1980. The Cyclones, who won four games in 1999, travel to Baylor (2-1) to face a Bears team that already has doubled its win total from a year ago.

``We're very proud to be undefeated but it's all over now,'' Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said. ``Everything has got to step up _ your efforts, your intensity, your productivity. All those things. This is the best college football conference in the country, there's no doubt in my mind, and you've got to be at your best.''

Defending conference champion and top-ranked Nebraska (3-0) opens its title defense at home against Missouri (1-2), which lost consecutive games to Clemson and Michigan State after a season-opening victory over Western Illinois.

Though the losses came to credible opponents, Missouri coach Larry Smith does not disparage schools that play a less stressful early season schedule.

``The most important thing is to win,'' he said. ``Your players think like winners and believe in winning and get used to winning. The only thing it does sometimes is it might give you a false read of how strong you might be. You might not be as strong as you think you are, but overall, I still think it's highly important to get the wins under your belt.''

Texas Tech (4-0) has been able to rack up the victories under first-year coach Mike Leach, who joked that last week's open date ``came in handy because we're still undefeated.''

The Red Raiders have not played anyone with a winning record, but that shouldn't matter Saturday at Texas A&M (2-1). Texas Tech has won four of five against the Aggies, including a three-point victory in College Station in 1996.

``I can't speak for Texas Tech's emotions, but I would hope ours would be sky high,'' A&M coach R.C. Slocum said. ``I hope everybody is fired up to play the Red Raiders. I've always had a little bit of the impression that sometimes they get more fired up for this game than we do.''

In the other two Big 12 games Saturday, Oklahoma State (2-1) travels to No. 13 Texas (2-1) and Kansas (2-1) visits No. 14 Oklahoma.

With four nationally ranked teams _ two in each division _ the Big 12 promises to remain interesting well beyond Saturday's opening weekend.

``It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out,'' Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. ``You can't throw anyone out of it as far as being a potential team that could make it to the top. That's what everybody's striving to do.''

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Quote of the week: ``We talk about having parity with the 85 scholarships, but at the same time you look at the Nebraskas and the Florida States and it doesn't look like parity exists with them.'' _Oklahoma State coach Bob Simmons when asked about the number of upsets in the season's first month.

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Extra Points: Texas coach Mack Brown sounded like a political candidate when asked his opinion on instant replay. ``I don't think there's any doubt that we should do everything possible to get instant replay,'' he said. ``The game is so fast and there's so many decisions now that are just judgment calls. I just think there's too much pressure on coaches and kids, too much at stake.'' ... Baylor coach Kevin Steele said redshirt freshman Guy Tomcheck will get his second straight start after throwing for 223 yards and three touchdowns last week. One of the TDs was to dynamic sophomore Reggie Newhouse. ``Reggie's a man. He was a man the first day he walked on this campus,'' Steele said.