SI.com's Stewart Mandel breaks down the 2003 conference race and predicts the final standings.
For what seems like the umpteenth straight year, archrivals Oklahoma and Texas will probably boast top five rankings entering their annual Dallas grudge match Oct. 11. And once again, the onus will be on Mack Brown's Longhorns to end their hex at the hands of Bob Stoops' Sooners. Texas will call upon untested Chance Mock to take over the reins of an offense that includes elite receiver Roy Williams, while OU, sure to be stacked on defense, hopes its own QB, Jason White, can finally stay healthy.
Oklahoma State has beaten the Sooners the past two seasons and seems poised to build on last year's bowl breakthrough, thanks to the return of dangerous passing tandem Josh Fields and Rashaun Woods. And master program builder Dennis Franchione arrives at Texas A&M with plenty of young talent at his disposal, including budding star Reggie McNeal.
Rounding out the South, Texas Tech should once again be explosive on offense but faces some major rebuilding on defense, while new Baylor coach Guy Morriss is in for quite a challenge.
The runaway favorite in the North has to be Kansas State, coming off its fifth 11-win season in the past six years and returning the nation's top backfield tandem, quarterback Ell Roberson and running back Darren Sproles. But there is also plenty of curiosity around the conference and the country as to whether Nebraska will bounce back from its worst season in 41 years. Athletic quarterback Jammal Lord returns with the hope of becoming a more efficient passer while the Blackshirt defense looks to rediscover its dominance.
For a team that went 5-7 last season, Missouri is receiving an unusual amount of attention, thanks to last year's emergence of sensational freshman quarterback Brad Smith. Conversely, two-time division champ Colorado is facing diminished expectations due to a depleted offense.
Iowa State begins life post-Seneca facing an uphill climb to reach its fourth straight bowl game, while Kansas coach Mark Mangino is counting on a batch of juco recruits to lift the Jayhawks out of the cellar.
David Horne, Nebraska I-back: The sophomore takes over full-time duties after showing flashes of potential with his three 100-yard games last fall.
Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M quarterback: The job isn't officially his yet, but after engineering last year's upset of Oklahoma, it's only a matter of time.
Donte Nicholson, Oklahoma safety: The juco transfer is expected to become the latest addition to the Sooners' recent assembly line of defensive studs.
Brad Smith, Missouri quarterback: The freshman All-America last year became just the second player in I-A history to throw for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000.
D'Juan Woods, Oklahoma State receiver: The younger brother of All-American Rashaun Woods, a freshman, is expected to join him in the starting lineup this fall.
What will Nebraska look like? The Huskers aren't seeking a complete overhaul, but significant change is in store. New offensive coordinator Barney Cotton, formerly at New Mexico State, pledges to add a more significant passing component to their traditional option attack, while ex-Packers assistant Bo Pelini is charged with shoring up the defense by shuffling personnel and introducing different looks.
Can Texas beat Oklahoma? The question has lingered in the Lone Star State for going on three years, and there are plenty who believe Bob Stoops "owns" Mack Brown. One thing's for certain: The Longhorns will try a different approach. Chris Simms, on the losing end the past three seasons, is gone, replaced by Chance Mock, a more mobile quarterback who should add a new twist to their offense.
Will Bill Sndyer remove the muzzle? In Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles, Kansas State has its first two legitimate Heisman hopefuls since Michael Bishop in 1998. The question is, will the Wildcats' notorious control-freak coach allow them the kind of media exposure often essential to launching a successful campaign? Some say his refusal to let Bishop do interviews cost the quarterback his chance.
Aug. 30: Right into conference play we go, with Oklahoma State visiting Nebraska in a game that could tell us a lot about the state of both programs.
Oct. 4: Kansas State boasts mostly a cookie-cutter schedule, but the 'Cats face potentially their biggest test of the year in the conference opener at Texas.
Oct. 11: Nearly forgotten in the '90s, Oklahoma and Texas have turned their annual bash at the Cotton Bowl into arguably the biggest game of the year.
Nov. 1: No Thanksgiving weekend date means the Sooners can't use the excuse of "looking ahead" for their annual Bedlam clash with Oklahoma State.