Texas A&M likely would defeat Rice without quarterback Johnny Manziel.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
But there is a downside for the Aggies having Manziel for only one half against the Owls in their season opener Saturday in College Station, Texas.
One of the biggest games of the regular season is Sept. 14, when top-ranked Alabama visits Texas A&M. That’s two games for the Aggies to prepare for the two-time defending national champions, and now it means 11/2 games for Manziel to prepare.
The first half of the Rice game figures to be A&M’s best competition before Alabama, and Manziel will miss it. A&M plays host to Sam Houston State next week.
Alabama doesn’t play next week, but the Tide gets a better test in its opener, meeting Virginia Tech on Saturday in Atlanta.
• Toledo at Florida, 11 a.m. Saturday on KSMO (Ch. 62): The Rockets have some offensive weapons, led by quarterback Terrance Owens and wide receiver Bernard Reedy, who had 88 receptions last year. This is a good test for a retooled Gators’ defense.
Rice at Texas A&M, noon Saturday on ESPN: Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin has said that at least 10 of the 31 newcomers who joined the program could see action. Who starts at quarterback with Manziel’s suspension? It could be Kenny Hill, whose father, Ken, pitched for 14 seasons with several teams, including the Cardinals.
• Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas, 3 p.m. Saturday on Fox Sports KC: Bret Bielema won all seven of his openers at Wisconsin, and Arkansas has been good in lid-lifters also. But the Razorbacks, 4-8 last season, get a test in Louisiana-Lafayette, coming off a second straight 9-4 season and led by dual-threat quarterback Terrance Broadway.
• Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (at Atlanta), 4:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN: This was also the opponent and site of the Crimson Tide’s first game of 2009, Nick Saban’s first title season at Alabama. The Tide beat the Hokies in comeback fashion that day, 34-24. Alabama has rolled ever since, and guns for its fourth national title in five years.
• Austin Peay at Tennessee, 5 p.m. Saturday on PPV: As bad as Tennessee has been the past three years (16-21), Austin Peay has been worse (7-26) and hands out about 20 fewer scholarships. The Butch Jones era should get off to a happy start.
• Washington State at Auburn, 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU: Whee! Mike Leach vs. Gus Malzahn — two of the game’s great offensive coaches square off. First to 70 wins?
• Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky (at Nashville, Tenn.), 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPNews: It’s payback for … Kentucky. Western Kentucky won this meeting in overtime last season, which gives Wildcats coach Mark Stoops extra incentive in his head coaching debut.
• Murray State at Missouri, 6 p.m. Saturday on PPV: The Racers’ quarterback is Maikhail Miller, a transfer from Mississippi. He’s a late addition, joining the team earlier this month. The Racers look to push the pace and have a solid wide receiver in Walter Powell, who set a school record with 94 receptions last season.
• Georgia at Clemson, 7 p.m. Saturday on ABC (Ch. 9): The top game in college football’s opening weekend, and a battle of terrific quarterbacks in the Bulldogs’ Aaron Murray and the Tigers’ Tajh Boyd. Georgia follows with a home game against South Carolina. Lose both, and the team’s national-title hopes could be over pronto.
Big 12 games
• Texas Tech at SMU, 7 tonighton ESPN: A freshman will start at quarterback in Kliff Kingsbury’s head coaching debut, either Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield. Both will play.
• North Dakota State at Kansas State, 7:30 tonight on Fox Sports 1: The Wildcats understand this is no pushover. K-State has won 11 straight openers but looked shaky in the previous two, against Eastern Kentucky and Missouri State.
• William & Mary at West Virginia, 11 a.m. Saturday on Fox Sports 1: It’s the teams’ first meeting since 1972, but they spent two decades together in the Southern Conference.
• Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State (at Houston), 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC (Ch. 9): It’s a different kind of opener for the Bulldogs, who have won their last four openers in easy fashion. The Bulldogs prefer to slow the pace, and that will have to happen to have a chance against a Cowboys team that averaged one play every 20.3 seconds last year.
• Louisiana-Monroe at Oklahoma, 6 p.m. Saturday on PPV: The Warhawks and quarterback Kolton Browning won’t be intimidated. Last year, they beat Arkansas and lost close ones to Auburn and Baylor. The Trevor Knight era begins for the Sooners.
• Wofford at Baylor, 6:30 p.m. Saturday on Fox Sports KC: Wofford is ranked No. 5 in the championship subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) and played South Carolina and Clemson tough in recent years. The Terriers run a wing-bone offense.
• Northern Iowa at Iowa State, 7 p.m. Saturday, webcast at Cyclones.tv: The Cyclones won this game 20-19 in the last meeting in 2011, needing two scores in the final 6 minutes, and the Panthers beat Iowa State in 2007.
• New Mexico State at Texas, 7 p.m. on Longhorn Network: The Aggies live as an independent for one year before joining the Sun Belt. Doug Martin is the new coach. If Texas struggles, all bets off for a contending season.
• LSU vs. TCU (at Arlington, Texas), 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN: Plenty of gamesmanship between coaches Les Miles of LSU and TCU’s Gary Patterson about who will or won’t play, but either way, a great defensive game should emerge.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.