- Associated Press - Thursday, September 1, 2016

Things to watch in the Big 12 Conference during the opening week of the season, when the league has three games against top-15 opponents.

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Houston, in the Texas Kickoff Classic at NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Texans. Oklahoma went to the College Football Playoff last season and is the overwhelming preseason favorite to win its 10th Big 12 title. The Sooners face a tough opening nonconference challenge in a game featuring top quarterbacks. The Cougars went 13-1 last season in the debut of head coach Tom Herman, who was coming off a national championship as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator when he got to Houston. Baker Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns for the Sooners last season, while Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. was 13-0 as a starter and accounted for 38 touchdowns. Ward was one of only two FBS quarterbacks with 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.

BEST MATCHUP: No. 10 Notre Dame at Texas, the same matchup that was a 38-3 wipeout for Notre Dame over the Longhorns in South Bend in last year’s opener. Despite that lopsided score and Texas coach Charlie Strong coming off consecutive losing seasons to start his tenure with the Longhorns, there’s hope for Texas because this opener is in Austin. These are two teams needing a positive start - the Irish are expected to contend for a playoff spot - and both have quarterback options. The Longhorns did beat Oklahoma and Baylor away from home last season, and three of their losses were by a field goal or less.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Kansas takes a 15-game losing streak into its opener against Rhode Island, an FCS team that went 1-10 last season. … The Big 12 returns four 1,000-yard rushers from last season - Oklahoma junior Samaje Perine (1,349 yards), Iowa State sophomore Mike Warren (1,339), Baylor senior Shock Linwood (1,329) and Bears junior Johnny Jefferson (1,000). … The only three active FBS coaches with 143 wins or more at their current schools are all in the Big 12, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder (193), Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops (179) and TCU’s Gary Patterson (143). … Oklahoma State has 18 starters back, including an offensive line with a combined 101 career starts.

LONG SHOT: Kansas State at No. 8 Stanford. K-State is a two-touchdown underdog Friday night when the Wildcats play the highest-ranked nonconference opponent they have ever faced in a season-opening road game. It is only the seventh time they have a true road nonconference game against a Power Five school since 1989, coach Bill Snyder’s first season.

IMPACT PERFORMER: Defensive end Noble Nwachukwu has started 26 of his 35 games at West Virginia. He had 8 1/2 sacks and 13 tackles for loss last season for a Mountaineers defense that will open the season at home against SEC team Missouri, which was in the Big 12 before WVU joined the league.

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Compiled by AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas.

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AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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