All eyes will be on the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis as Missouri puts its No. 6 ranking on the line against Illinois in a border war that could set the tone for the Tigers' entire season.
That was the case last season, when Mizzou raced to a 37-13 lead in the third quarter, then had to hang on for a 40-34 victory thanks to a last-minute interception near the Tigers' goal line by now-departed safety Pig Brown.
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams was knocked out of that game in the second quarter, and Illinois was led the rest of the way by then-redshirt freshman Eddie McGee. Williams is back for this year's rematch, as is star Illini wide receiver Arrelious Benn.
The Illini no longer have All-American linebacker J Leman, but coach Ron Zook has high hopes for sophomore Martez Wilson.
"We felt like a year ago at this time Missouri was a great football team but it might be later in the year before everyone else realized how good they were," Zook said. "Anytime you have a great quarterback like (Chase Daniel) – we knew he potentially was a great player but he didn't even come onto the scene until our game."
"I said after the game last year what a great team Illinois was, and they ended up in the Rose Bowl," Pinkel said.
Saturday's game will also have big implications for the Big 12. If the conference wants to challenge the SEC for supremacy, the top-10 teams have to win their marquee matchups.
Illinois vs. Missouri in St. Louis. There will be a lot of skill-position talent on the field, to be sure, but the defenses may prove to be better than expected. Missouri returns 10 players who started in the Cotton Bowl rout of Arkansas. Illinois has potential first-team All-Big Ten guys at end (Will Davis) and cornerback (Vontae Davis).
Colorado tailback Darrell Scott. Scott, a heralded freshman from Ventura, Calif., will make his debut Sunday against rival Colorado State. Scott won't start, having been beaten out by Demetrius Sumler. But look for Scott to start getting a lot of work to prepare for upcoming games against West Virginia and Florida State.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
• "The first game, you want to start to see the personality of your team. I like what I've seen. But until you're in competition, out on the field, by yourself, into the moment and having to deal with three and a half hours of football – until you see it, you don't really know. How do you come out of halftime? What's your attitude throughout the game? What kind of toughness to you play with? You want to see what kind of makeup they have." – Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops
• "It's a real concern." – Texas coach Mack Brown, on having five freshmen at safety on his two-deep roster.
• "I have a few more gray hairs than when I started." – Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman on how he's dealt with the youth and inexperience – four new starters – of his offensive line
Baylor coach Art Briles still hasn't named a starting quarterback heading into tonight's opener at home against Wake Forest. … The Bo Pelini era at Nebraska kicks off against a Western Michigan team expected to contend for the MAC title. The last time the Huskers played host to a MAC team, they nipped Ball State 41-40 last season. … None of the 12 league teams is playing a road game this weekend. Nine are at home and the other three are at neutral sites. … Baylor's game with Wake Forest is the first of three consecutive home games to open the season. The Bears have seven home games this season for just the sixth time since 1950. … Oklahoma has won 18 in a row at home, the nation's longest current home winning streak. … Texas Tech is 12th in the AP poll; that's the Red Raiders' highest preseason ranking since they were No. 8 in 1977. … Iowa State's Austen Arnaud will make his first start at quarterback tonight against Division I-AA South Dakota State. He is replacing Bret Meyer, who graduated. … Texas A&M running back Jorvorskie Lane is questionable for Saturday's opener against Arkansas State because of lingering effects from a neck injury.