- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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At long last, we can put an end to all the offseason chatter and preseason hype. All those expectations get thrown out the window on the first weekend of college football.
Who’s going to rise to the occasion and live up to those expectations? And who already has a lot on the line entering the season opener? Here are 10 Big 12 players, coaches and positions that have plenty to prove this weekend.
1. Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite: The first-year playcaller worked all offseason to implement an up-tempo offense at Texas, and Mack Brown has set high goals for pace and plays per game. Will the tempo make Longhorn players more mistake-prone or wear them out faster? We’ll find out how much progress has been made Saturday when they faces New Mexico State.
2. West Virginia RB Charles Sims: Coach Dana Holgorsen likes Sims and his revamped stable of backs so much, he’s redshirting 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie. How’s that for some pressure to perform? Sims, a Houston transfer, may have to help carry the offense while WVU’s quarterback situation remains unresolved.
3. Kansas State QB Jake Waters: Waters was named the starter Monday but will still have to split snaps with Daniel Sams to some extent. Much is expected of the junior college transfer who has been on campus for only eight months. With Sams ready to play at any moment, he’ll need to be sharp against North Dakota State.
4. Oklahoma State RB Jeremy Smith: OSU has been spoiled at the running back position with Kendall Hunter and Joseph Randle, and Smith will try to keep that trend going as the new feature back. What kind of dent can he make against a Mississippi State unit that ranked No. 11 in the SEC in run defense last season?
5. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops: Stoops’ first year back in Norman wasn’t exactly the smashing success most expected, and he’ll put a defense on the field against Louisiana-Monroe that features only four returning starters. With West Virginia coming to town the next week, Stoops’ rebuilt D needs to get off to a good start Saturday.
6. Oklahoma State offensive line: The Cowboys lost left tackle Devin Davis for the season to a torn ACL this week, and line coach Joe Wickline will have some interesting decisions to make as he reworks his lineup before Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. Parker Graham could slide over from guard to tackle, or a few others could fill the vacancy. Not a good problem to have when you’re prepping for an SEC foe instead of an FCS cupcake.
7. TCU linebackers: LSU’s potent power run game will give the Frogs' linebacker corps as good a test as it’ll get all season. The departure of leading tackler Joel Hasley earlier this month makes that task even tougher. Juniors Marcus Mallet, Paul Dawson and ex-safety Jonathan Anderson have to step up.
8. Baylor QB Bryce Petty: There might not be a more hyped player in the Big 12 entering the opener. Most assume the junior with only 14 career passing attempts will end up becoming the league’s best quarterback by December. He gets to prove a lot of people right -- or wrong -- Saturday versus Wofford.
9. Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury: The man who molded Johnny Manziel in 2012 now must find a way to work wonders with a true freshman quarterback on the road. How will Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield operate his offense, and how much confidence will they have? Few coaches have more to prove this season than Kingsbury, and if his team isn’t ready SMU will give Tech a battle on Friday night.
10. TCU QB Casey Pachall: Even if he does earn the start for TCU this weekend -- Gary Patterson is sticking to his strategy of not naming a starter until kickoff -- you have to imagine Trevone Boykin will enter the game if Pachall has some early struggles against an LSU defense that, despite losing so many starters to the NFL, should still have legitimate talent at all three levels. Remember, Pachall started only one Big 12 game last season before leaving the program, and it was a not-so-stellar 20-6 win over Kansas. So much is expected of him this season, and the presence of Boykin puts pressure on Pachall to be as good as advertised.
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