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Big 12 early look: Kickoff Week challenges provide key measuring stick

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Sooners have most to lose in opening weekend (0:45)

Danny Kanell explains why the Oklahoma Sooners have the most to lose when they face Houston in the opening weekend of college football. (0:45)

Kickoff Week is here. We have arrived at the doorstep of perhaps the most anticipated Week 1 slate of college football games ever on the national level. And the Big 12 is set to hold its weight all weekend.

In fact, the Big 12 is the only Power-5 league in this opening week to play three opponents ranked in the top 15 of the Associated Press preseason poll. Kansas State visits No. 8 Stanford on Friday, third-ranked Oklahoma plays No. 15 Houston on Saturday at Reliant Stadium, and Texas hosts No. 10 Notre Dame on Sunday night.

So how does the tough schedule bode for the Big 12? In a nutshell, it’s a good thing. Look, this season begins amid a bit of chaos. The struggle for supremacy is real. Seven teams received at least one vote for the top spot in the first AP poll -- the most since 1998.

The College Football Playoff discussion this season figures to range widely. So it helps, if you hope to contend, to impress the committee with a tough schedule -- win or lose. After all, ESPN’s Football Power Index calculates a 92-percent chance that two or more Power-5 conference champions will enter the postseason with more than one loss.

In a season that may well feature a two-loss team (or two) in the playoff, it pays to play quality opponents.

On that note, here’s an early look at the most attractive Big 12 games of Kickoff Week:

Who’s that on the Kansas State schedule? Yes, that’s Stanford, the preseason Pac-12 favorite -- not Samford -- up first for the Wildcats. K-State has opened over the past five years with South Dakota, Stephen F. Austin, North Dakota State (a 24-21 loss in 2013 to the FCS power), Missouri State and Eastern Kentucky. The Friday opener, in fact, marks just the seventh time since 1989 that Kansas State will play at the stadium of a non-conference Power-5 foe; it is 2-4 in such matchups but won at Miami in 2011, the most recent such trip. The Wildcats’ quarterback choice remains unknown. Jesse Ertz, Joe Hubener and Alex Delton have battled through the spring. Of course, Kansas State must deal with 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey, who shattered the Rose Bowl record in his last game with 368 all-purpose yards. And 76-year-old coach Bill Snyder is back to start his 25th season on the sideline for Kansas State.

No easy task for the Sooners: Don’t believe everything you read, especially metrics that project Oklahoma as a heavy favorite over Big 12 expansion candidate Houston (noon ET, ABC). FPI gets a lot correct, but Oklahoma’s win probability of 90.4 percent seems a bit high. The Cougars, led by dynamic quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and defensive end Cameron Malveaux, beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl to cap a 13-1 season a year ago. The fact is, FPI loves the Sooners. Oklahoma is the only FBS team given better than a 70-percent chance to win each of its games. And its 18-percent chance to finish unbeaten in the regular season rates as a national high. Houston, for what it’s worth, is projected by FPI to endure a 3.3-game victory drop in 2016, the fifth-highest figure nationally. In spite of the numbers, this game is as appetizing as almost any on the Week 1 docket.

Is Texas ready for prime time? We’re going to find out fast. The answer to open coach Charlie Strong’s second season last year was a resounding no as the Longhorns lost 38-3 at Notre Dame. Texas started 1-4 en route to a second straight losing season. But as the Fighting Irish visit Austin on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), hopes are high with the expected emergence of freshman QB Shane Buechele, who has yet to earn the nod over senior Tyrone Swoopes. Strong has likely made his pick, and if it’s Swoopes, his experience would figure to help the Longhorns navigate a nonconference schedule that ranks as the fourth-toughest nationally behind USC, Florida State and UCLA. Equally important for Texas in its bid to rebound is the continued growth of budding stars such as offensive linemen Patrick Vahe and Connor Williams, linebacker Malik Jefferson and defensive backs Davante Davis, Holton Hill and Brandon Jones. We’ll know soon if their ready.

Hello, Mizzou: Missouri visits West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday as the first SEC team to play in Morgantown since LSU in 2011 and the first in a home opener for the Mountaineers in 54 years. More interesting, the Tigers are the first of the four Big 12 defectors from 2011 and 2012 to schedule a game against a foe from their old league -- albeit West Virginia, which joined the league as Mizzou departed four years ago. Nebraska and Colorado have not played a Big 12 opponent since they bolted. Texas A&M has played Oklahoma and WVU in bowl games, and Missouri beat Oklahoma State three years ago in the Cotton Bowl. But this week represents a milestone of sorts, even if the visiting program has lived through notably more Big 12 history than the host.