In past years, the traditional season opener between Colorado and Colorado State was strictly a game between state rivals. That changed earlier this year, and most of the focus in Boulder tomorrow will be on embattled Colorado coach Gary Barnett.
Barnett, who after being suspended temporarily by school officials managed to survive the scandal that rocked his program last winter, seems almost oblivious to this fact: His job will be in jeopardy until the Buffaloes demonstrate marked improvement on and off the field.
"Every year brings the same pressure," Barnett, whose team is coming off a 5-7 season, said in a recent interview with Denver's Rocky Mountain News. "I don't care what you did last year, whether you won it all or didn't win any. It's the same pressure."
Barnett and his players are using the program's tarnished image - included in the charges were allegations of rape and lewd behavior at recruiting parties - as a rallying point. That might seem perverse, but isn't totally unexpected given what is used for motivational tools these days.
"Something like that has to fuel you," said Ron Monteilh, a senior wide receiver. "We went through a lot. We fought through it, struggled through it and stuck together. ... I do think a stronger team came out of it."
Said Barnett: "We've already faced more adversity than most teams face in a season."
In contrast, the pressure Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick faces up in Fort Collins is mostly self-imposed and only deals with football. Last year's 7-6 record, which included a 42-35 loss to Colorado, was not up to the standards Lubick had set during his first decade with the Rams.
"It's harder to keep winning after all these years," said Lubick, who has won 91 games and six conference titles at Colorado State. "Heck, a 7-6 record five or 10 years ago at Colorado State, fans would have held a parade for us in the middle of town."
Lubick is so beloved at Colorado State that the field at Hughes Stadium has already been named for him, but that doesn't mean he won't be facing some heat if the Rams continue to slide. After tomorrow, Colorado State faces top-ranked Southern California in Los Angeles and much-improved Minnesota at home.
"The truth is, the schedule is on me," Lubick said. "My athletic director came down one day in the spring and asked if I wanted to play USC. Of course, I said yes. But it's easy to say yes in March. Now, as we get ready to kick off a season, I walk around saying, 'Who the heck did a silly thing like that?'"
Tennessee quarterback Brent Schaeffer isn't thinking about making history tomorrow when the Vols host Nevada-Las Vegas, but the freshman from Deerfield Beach, Fla., will do that just in taking the team's first snap at Neyland Stadium. Schaeffer will become the first quarterback straight out of high school to start in the SEC.
"It's all happened so fast, but I wanted this," said Schaeffer, who beat out fellow freshman Eric Ainge for the job to replace Casey Clausen. "It's here and I've worked all through high school for just these kind of moments. Now, I've got to go play."
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer is going to take it slowly with both of his young quarterbacks.
"We won't go into the game with a huge package for them to manage," Fulmer said. "That would be unfair. We didn't do that with Peyton [Manning] or Casey."
Said Ainge, a 6-foot-6 former basketball star from Hillborough, Ore., whose uncle, Danny, is president of the Boston Celtics: "If you're second-guessing yourself, you're always going to be a step behind. It comes down to how prepared you are and how ready you are."
Both Shaeffer, who has been called "a Mike Vick in an orange jersey," and Ainge have to be ready soon. After UNLV, the 14th-ranked Vols have two weeks to prepare for archrival Florida in Knoxville.
Going into overtime
Southern California and Notre Dame made an interesting request for their respective trips to Brigham Young this season: a police escort to and from LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"We've never done it before," said the aptly named John Pickup, a Utah County sheriff's lieutenant. "But if the universities are willing to pay the cost, we can use the overtime."
The Fighting Irish will open the season in Provo tomorrow, and the Trojans will visit on Sept. 18.
Out to pasture
First Smarty Jones, now Bevo.
Actually it's Bevo XIII's turn to retire. The 20-year-old longhorn steer whose 16 years as Texas' mascot is the longest in a tradition that dates back to 1916, will give way to a 1,300-pound 2-year-old at tomorrow's home opener against North Texas.
The most memorable moment of XIII's tenure came after a 22-6 loss to Nebraska in the 1999 Big 12 championship game in San Antonio. On the way out of the Alamodome, Bevo stopped at the Cornhuskers' logo for one last piece of business.
"A crowning achievement," said Ricky Brennes, a board member of the Silver Spurs, an alumni group that helps manage the Bevos.
The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.
Game of the week
With Monday's Florida State-Miami Armageddon postponed until next Friday by Hurricane Frances, there are slim pickings as far as big games go. But given what transpired last season, the Maryland-Northern Illinois rematch is intriguing.
Upset of the week
Led by sophomore quarterback Jason Murrietta, who threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 29 touchdowns last season, Northern Arizona will show new Arizona coach Mike Stoops that he isn't in Norman anymore. The Wildcats had better win this one, since Utah and Wisconsin follow. - - Don Markus